By: NobleHour Special Contributor Latasha Doyle
The holiday season is a time for giving, and many of us take that to heart. We donate more money and seek out shelters, kitchens, and causes where we can volunteer our time. Statistics show about 30% of all donations for nonprofits come during the month of December alone and about 16% of adults volunteer approximately 2 hours a month between Thanksgiving and Christmas (5% more than the rest of the year).
Of course, these are all noble ways to serve our community, especially when there are so many options to spend our time and money this time of year. However, if you’ve ever volunteered or donated during the holidays, you probably know that many programs and charities experience an influx of giving during this season of giving, sometimes almost more than they can handle.
If you feel like your efforts to volunteer or make donations are being drowned out by the sheer volume of people also in the giving mood, we’ve got some great alternatives where you can put your generous nature to good use. If your local charities, soup kitchens, or homeless shelters are lucky to have more than enough volunteers this month, consider these options for the days ahead and year round:
Local Food Drives
From Thanksgiving through New Years, many Americans struggle to provide “traditional” meals for their families. Turkeys, pies, and non-essentials can be hard to come by for families on a tighter food budget. Food drives are everywhere this time of year, so keep your eyes and ears out for an announcement. You can even check with your local grocery store to see if they take donations of food or cash to help families in need get the holiday treats we all enjoy.
If you want to donate food, make sure it can actually be accepted at a food drive or used by a family in need. Remember to buy “fresher” non-perishable food that has a longer shelf life - don’t raid your pantry for nearly expired items. This helps food banks keep their storage and shipping costs low and also reduces waste (they can’t use expired items).
Tip for making this a year-round habit: purchase canned and nonperishable food once a month (or more) and drop your donations off at a food bank on your way home.
Winter Clothing Drives
If you live in an area that is subject to the bitter cold of winter, you understand the need for durable, quality winter clothing. Coats, gloves, scarves, earmuffs, socks, boots, snow pants, balaclavas, sweaters, long johns - anything you can imagine for a cold winter is in high demand. Many homeless shelters run drives, but so do many schools, churches, and companies. All you have to do is keep an eye out for an organized winter clothing drive or, better yet, organize one yourself!
Tip for making this a year-round habit: if you find seasonally-appropriate clothing on sale or you have items you don’t need (that are in good shape), donate them to a local charity.
Hospital, Nursing Home, Hospice Volunteers
Did you know the biggest threat to mental and physical health in the elderly community is loneliness? As you can imagine, people who are bedridden or who live in facilities like nursing homes or hospice feel especially lonely during the holidays. By simply volunteering your time to visit with people in hospitals, nursing homes, or hospice, you’re alleviating a bit of that loneliness and providing them an afternoon of companionship. You could even consider providing little gifts or cards on your visit so that people feel included in holiday gift-giving.
Contact your local hospital or nursing home to see if they accept volunteers, and determine if you need anything specific to get started. Some hospitals have volunteer training programs, while smaller facilities often just need you to sign in and get a visitor’s badge.
Tip for making this a year-round habit: Schedule yourself to volunteer at your local hospital or nursing home once a month (more if you can). This way, you become a consistent figure in the residents’ lives and you make room for volunteering in your calendar.
Neighbors in Need
The real beauty of the Season of Giving is that you don’t have to be a part of a specific program or charity - all you have to do is look around. Odds are you know someone who is in need of a helping hand this year, whether it’s in the form of money to help them get through a tough spot or toys for kids who don’t have many presents under the tree.
If you don’t know anyone personally, you can seek out a local charity or church “sponsoring” families in need. To get started, Google phrases like “Adopt a Family.” You’ll often find missions, Facebook groups, or churches holding sponsorship events for toys, clothes, and holiday dinners.
Tip for making this a year-round habit: Give freely to those in need whenever they cross your path. This could be at work, school, church, or in your own neighborhood. Whether it’s helping them pay bills, making meals, or offering to care for their kids for an evening, you can help anyone with simple gestures.
Donate Blood and Platelets
The American Red Cross is always in need of blood donors, especially during the holidays. While most charities experience a bump in volunteers and donations during this time, the Red Cross often experiences a slump in blood and platelet donations. Busy social calendars, travel schedules, and winter colds mean fewer blood drives during the holiday season. Instead of donating your cash or your time, why not give the gift of life for someone in need? Not sure where you can donate blood? Find your local American Red Cross location here.
Tip for making this a year-round habit: Schedule yourself to donate blood on a consistent basis (on a schedule that the organization recommends for your specific case).
Make it a Family Affair
One of the perks of volunteering during the holiday season is that children are generally on school break and parents might be lucky enough to have vacation time. Spend your free time together as a family, while also helping the community. Let your kids pick a cause they want to volunteer for or seek out family-friendly programs that allow you to work as a family. It doesn’t have to be a formal volunteer opportunity either; check out this list of 50 ways you can volunteer with kids.
Tip for making this a year-round habit: Plan volunteering into your family’s weekend or vacation schedule - whenever your family has a few free days. This is a great way to teach your children to prioritize giving and volunteerism throughout their life!
Don’t Stop After the New Year
The best part about the holiday season is that people get in the “giving mood.” Unfortunately, after the New Year rolls around, many tend to stop their volunteer or donation efforts in favor of starting the year off with personal goals. But, what if you adopted a personal goal of volunteering more or donating to a cause you love every month? Or, what if, as a family or as a group of coworkers you dedicated your time and resources to people or places less fortunate than you? Let this Season of Giving be the start of a culture of volunteerism, one that will have deep-rooted impacts on our society and ourselves not just for the holidays, but for the entire year!
Are you ready to make volunteering a lifelong passion? Sign up for your free NobleHour account today to find meaningful opportunities near you!
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she's not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.