The phrase "less fortunate" takes on new meaning in times like these, when everyone's bank accounts and job opportunities seem more bleak than they used to. But according to the clichéd-yet-still-beneficent spirit of almost every holiday story ever told, this is the perfect time of year to contemplate those who truly are less fortunate than we are. (Cupboards full of ramen? Sucks. But having cupboards in which to put ramen? Rocks.) Why not get some perspective by giving your time and energy to those whose straits are even more dire than yours? Check out some of our favorite volunteer opportunities below, or visit www.volunteerinfo.org  for an extensive list of Bay Area organizations that need manpower.
This Bay Area institution gives patrons yet another way to find personal affirmation with its five-year-old tradition of offering free Thanksgiving meals served by volunteer community members and staff. This year, four locations are participating, each expecting to feed at least 300 people. Want to get involved? No need to RSVP. Just show up at one of the restaurants below with friends and family any time between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., ready to work and eat until the food is gone.
2400 Harrison Street, SF. (415) 830-3014; 1730 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 725-4418; 2200 Fourth St., San Rafael. (415) 578-4928; 206 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg. (707) 723-4461; www.cafegratitude.com 
There are plenty of ways to support this noble and notable organization year-round, including volunteering at any one of Glide's daily free meals. (Just visit the Web site and sign up for a breakfast, lunch, or dinner shift. Larger groups also can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .) If you'd like to get involved in other Glide programs which need everything from nurses and doctors to clerical assistants and ensemble singers all you need to do is attend a Volunteer Information Session, held the first Wednesday of select months. But the holidays are an especially important time to support the nonprofit founded by philanthropist Lizzie Glide in 1929 and reborn under the Rev. Cecil Williams during the 1960s. Though all Thanksgiving shifts are filled, Glide still needs volunteers to help with the Toy Sort and Transfer on Dec. 16, 17, 19, and 20; Christmas Eve meal prep; Christmas Day meal service; and especially breakfast and lunch shifts in the days after Christmas, when volunteers are notoriously scarce.
330 Ellis, SF. (415) 674-6000, www.glide.org 
Founded by Mary Risley of Tante Marie's Cooking School, this organization's goal is to help alleviate hunger and waste by delivering excess food from restaurants to local shelters and food programs. The award-winning nonprofit can always use groups and individuals to commit to regular or on-call deliveries or phone and computer work year-round, including the holiday season.
2579 Washington, SF. (415) 929-1866, www.foodrunners.org 
Want to help your local community, but not sure where or what you want to do? HandsOn Bay Area specializes in linking potential volunteers with local nonprofits, schools, and parks for high-impact, group-based volunteer projects (though there are plenty of opportunities for individuals too). To get involved, register as a HOBA volunteer at its Web site, complete the online orientation, and then sign up for any open opportunity on the Project Calendar. You can search more than 100 options by project attributes, impact area, or county. Open projects in San Francisco in November and December include working with seniors at Canon Kip Senior Center, sprucing up the Conservatory of Flowers, helping at the Harbor House, and working with families at the Ronald McDonald House.
Like HandsOn Bay Area, this nonprofit connects volunteers with opportunities. But this Bay Area-based organization (with other branches in New York, Chicago, D.C., Minneapolis, and Seattle) adds a twist: "commitment-free volunteering" and post-event gatherings at restaurants or cafes, all of which appeals particularly to those in their 20s and 30s. Opportunities range anywhere from prepping outreach supplies for the homeless to ushering audience members during a special Berkeley Rep program. Or you can get involved on the ground level. As a 100 percent volunteer-run operation, One Brick can always use help with event management, PR and marketing, development and fundraising, and web design.
237 Kearny, SF. www.onebrick.org 
This all-volunteer nonprofit's mission is to save homeless and abandoned animals from euthanasia at overcrowded Bay Area shelters. Even if you can't help by fostering a dog, you can support the organization by providing animal transportation, getting involved with outreach, helping to host a fundraising happy hour (a recent event featured free makeovers and spa pampering at the Body Shop in the Castro), working at weekend adoption fairs (held the first three Sundays of every month), or signing up for one of the many tasks it takes to keep such an operation running.
(415) 642-4786, www.rocketdogrescue.org