The holiday season is quickly coming upon us once again. Time to curl up by the fireplace, turn on the holiday music for some festive cheer, and join together with friends and family to create heartwarming memories.
It’s also one of the best times to give back to your community.
Volunteering this holiday season by giving someone food to eat, clothes to wear, or a friendly face to talk to can make a positive difference in the lives of members throughout your community. And you can do so in ways that won’t put any strain on your wallet.
You don’t need a lot of money to give back to your community — you and your loved ones can volunteer your time and talent to touch the lives of those around you. Many trusted organizations offer outstanding opportunities for holiday volunteering.
Look for trustworthy organizations near you that will make sure your philanthropy will be appreciated by people throughout your community and provide maximum benefit to those in need.
If you’re wondering how to be a helper this winter season, here are some holiday volunteer opportunities that you and your loved ones can do together to spread some goodwill. Contact your local organizations to find one that offers opportunities such as these.
Do you dread the heap of unused clothes piling up in your closet? Is there a growing stack of outgrown toys in your attic that you’ve never gotten around to giving away? Turn the unused items around the house into the perfect holiday presents for disadvantaged families throughout your community.
Find a clothing or toy drop-off bin near you — you’ll often find them in the parking lot of your nearest supermarket, restaurant, place of worship, or other local facility.
We talked with Kathy Anderson-Martin, the Director of Philanthropy at The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region, about how to get involved during the holiday season: “While The Salvation Army serves people through a variety of programs all year round, the holiday season is a particularly busy time as we help tens of thousands of families and children across Pennsylvania with holiday meals, and toys and clothing for children at Christmas. Every Salvation Army office does things a bit differently given the needs in their community, facilities, and resources, but donations of new toys and food are needed and appreciated.”
“I recommend that you start with a call to your local Salvation Army community or assistance center – not a Thrift Store or Adult Rehab Center, but a ‘Corps’ or community center which is where the holiday assistance programs will be provided,” suggested Anderson-Martin. “Ask them about their holiday activities and how you and your family or group can get involved. I’d suggest making the call sooner rather than later, because holiday activities are in full gear right now! Almost every Salvation Army office distributes some type of Giving or Angel Tree tags, with gift needs for a specific child in that community, or they may have a list of specifically needed toys or other items, like hats and gloves. Just ask. Volunteer needs will vary at each Salvation Army location as well. At The Salvation Army Harrisburg, for instance, we post a number of volunteer opportunities, including food basket needs, gift box packing, and bell ringing shifts at timetosignup.com/salvationarmyhbg.”
Collect donations for a rescue shelter or disaster relief organization — countless organizations could use your contributions to help those in need throughout the community and around the world. Find your passion and choose one that most interests you.
You’ve probably seen people ringing a bell at The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle during the holiday season. “Our family has taken a turn at bell ringing since our girls were in elementary school,” said Anderson-Martin. “Now they are in high school and college, but still ask when we’re going to ring the bells as a family! I’ve also shared a bell ringing shift with my ‘girl’s night out’ group. We sing (and maybe even dance a little!) while we ring. It’s fun, you feel like you did something important – and you can always go out to lunch or dinner afterwards to laugh and swap stories!”
The YWCA also collects monetary and product donations for their Holiday Giving program. We talked with Mary Quinn, the CEO of YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, about the many ways you can get involved: “Community members can sponsor a client’s wish list of two needs and one wish or they can donate items from the general wish list. We know there will be new residents coming into shelter during the holidays who were unable to submit their needs previously. General wish list items benefit the women and children that come into shelter in December.”
Look to trusted organizations around you to find ways to give. In PA, for example, the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank distributes more than 48 million pounds of food throughout the state every year and uses collections to feed thousands of hungry families.
“Our #1 need for the holidays is monetary donations, as we raise a significant amount of our annual donor funding during the holiday season. Monetary donations can be made using the ’Donate’ feature on our website centralpafoodbank.org or by sending a check by mail,” said Joe Arthur, the Executive Director for Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
But what if you’re on a budget? “Actually, most of our donors are on a budget,” explains Arthur. “We recommend that people include us in their holiday ‘gift’ list, just as they would a family member or friend. Signing up as a monthly donor is a great way to budget in charitable giving to our mission, and we need financial support all year long.” Arthur also recommends seeing if your employer has a United Way campaign, “We are a United Way partner, so employees that work for an organization that has a United Way campaign at their workplace can select our Food Bank as an option.”
“For individuals on a budget, there are several ways to get involved and support the YWCA,” said Quinn. “Whether the gift is monetary or in kind — each gift matters. Community members can attend an event, they can support the ‘In a Pinch’ Fund that provides small grants to a client in need, or they can donate new hygiene items for residents entering shelter.”
Even if you can’t give monetarily, you can almost always find a way to give with your time.
“Volunteering doesn’t have a monetary cost, but it’s personally rewarding and a priceless opportunity to teach kids about giving back and thinking beyond themselves,” said Anderson-Martin. “Even putting a handful of change in a Red Kettle makes a difference. At The Salvation Army Harrisburg, just $2.87 provides a hot meal to one person in our daily breakfast program. A Thanksgiving meal basket of staple items (we add the turkey!) can be put together for about $15-$20. We have a church group that prepares small holiday gift bags that include new socks, candy, and granola bars for adults and seniors in our feeding program. We have literally seen grown men start to cry after receiving new socks – because it was the only Christmas gift they would receive and it meant so much. Truly, every little bit makes a difference. And remember, if someone is hungry on December 25, they will probably be hungry on January 25 or June 25, so donations of time, talents, and treasures are needed all year long!”
The most valuable gift you can give to your community this holiday season is your time.
“The YWCA has endless possibilities for community members to give back,” shared Quinn. “Each program has individual needs during various times throughout the year. Opportunities could include giving your time and talent on an event planning committee, assisting with organizing the clothing bank, or participating in the mentor program as a mentor to an at-risk youth. To discuss individualized volunteer opportunities, please contact Tiffanie Keck at 717.724.2250 or email@example.com.”
Another way to participate in the Holiday Giving program is by donating time to assist with the wrapping and sorting of gifts. “Our Highmark Room transforms into a holiday gift-giving wonderland, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to give back during the holiday season,” said Quinn.
The holidays are the busiest time of year for many organizations and charities, so volunteering your time can help them stay afloat in the hustle and bustle of the season.
“Offer your help in your community if you know of an organization that is helping address hunger, like a local pantry that partners with our Food Bank,” suggested Arthur. “We welcome community and group volunteers – we have an excellent Volunteer feature on our website, but the calendar is filling up fast for the holidays! Communities can run or support food drives, and we recommend that the food be donated directly to a Partner Agency of our Food Bank that operates right in their community. That saves time, handling, and money for both organizations.”
It doesn’t take much to spread your holiday cheer — even a thoughtful card can brighten the lives of those around you who may not be having a happy holiday.
Many local hospitals collect cards for patients who won’t be able to enjoy the festive atmosphere of home this holiday season. There’s no greater reward than imagining a child’s face light up as they open your encouraging card from their hospital bed. Ask your local hospital about charities they partner with to hand out cards to children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
You can also send holiday cards to military members who will be away from their loved ones over the holidays. Your card could be the perfect taste of home as they wait to be reunited with friends and family. There are several charities you can partner with to send cards to active duty soldiers this holiday season. Search online to find more information.
The holidays can be incredibly lonely for those without family, especially those who live in a retirement home. Why not brighten their day and give them a present they’ll cherish long after the holidays are over?
Sing festive carols or bring some board games — there’s no shortage of ways to put a smile on the face of those who might not get many visitors over the holiday season. Check in with your local retirement home to learn more about their needs and what you can do to boost the spirits of their residents.
While it’s fun to get caught up in the excitement of the season, remember that the gift of your time and talent is one of the best presents you can offer. Change a life — and your entire community — by using these tips and finding your own unique ways to make a difference.
At PSECU, we believe in the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.” That’s why we give back to the community through employee volunteerism, charitable contributions, and educational initiatives to make a difference in Pennsylvania in health, education, and social justice. Learn more about our community impact.