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Finding Volunteer Activities During the Holidays
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Finding volunteering opportunities on or around Thanksgiving, on or around Christmas, or any time between these holidays, is much harder than most people imagine. Why is it so hard?
  • So many, many people want to volunteer during the holidays that organizations that involve volunteers during these days book their volunteer openings quickly, often months in advance (some food pantries and soup kitchens are booked with volunteers for Thanksgiving and Christmas a YEAR in advance!).

  • Most economically or socially-disadvantaged people find family to be with during the holidays. Even most people staying in homeless shelters go to a family member's home on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. That means that many shelters and soup kitchens don't serve many people on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

  • It is very hard for a nonprofit organization to develop a one-time, just-show-up and volunteer activity that is worth all the expense (staff time to supervise the volunteers and supervise them, particularly since the volunteer may never volunteer again); often, it's cheaper and easier to simply let the staff do the work themselves. In addition, group volunteering activities are also quite difficult to develop, for similar reasons.

  • Staff at nonprofits often suspend all training of new volunteers the week of Christmas, through January 1. This is to allow staff some time off to be with their own families for the holidays.

If you are absolutely determined to find ways to volunteer during the holidays:
  • Start looking early. August is not too early. Janaury is not too early!

  • Volunteer with the organization months before the holidays: go through their orientation process, get trained, and prove yourself as a reliable volunteer at least a few times. You are more likely to get to volunteer during the holidays as a result.

  • Call your local United Way and ask for a list of homeless shelters and other agencies that serve food in your community, then call each shelter to ask if you can volunteer during the holidays (call at least three months in advance; six months or a year is even better). Be ready to call numerous places in order to find a place to volunteer on a holiday, and have an alternative if, even calling six months in advance, you cannot find a place on your preferred day.

  • Call the Salvation Army to see if they will be delivering meals or serving meals during the holidays and if you could volunteer to help with either activity. Call at least four months in advance.

  • Contact your local office of Meals on Wheels. They will prefer that you volunteer several times before the holidays, to prove yourself as a reliable volunteer, before signing you up for any days during the holidays.

  • Contact local hospice organizations to see if you could help with meal delivery or other services during the holidays, or on a specific day.

  • Call your local USO, VFW, VA hospital and other veterans organizations and ask them if they will be doing any activities during the holidays that you could volunteer for.

  • Call your local hospital and ask to speak with the volunteering coordinator. Ask her if it would be okay for you to make get well cards for all the children in the pediatric unit that will be there during the holidays, or on Thanksgiving or Christmas in particular, how many cards you would need to make to ensure each child got such a card, and how you would deliver those to the hospital so that they get to the kids on the day you want them delivered. Then spend a day (you can include friends and family!) making those cards.

  • Call your local jail or nearest prison and ask if it would be okay to make Happy Holiday cards for the people incarcerated. Ask how many you should make and when you should drop them off to be distributed on a holiday. When making your cards, be senstive to the variety of cultures and beliefs that may be among the residents.

  • Make a list of all of the various senior homes in your immediate area. Call each and find out how many people are living in each, and if it would be okay for you to make and drop off Season's Greetings cards you make. Then spend a day, afternoon or morning making cards for one of these facilities. When making your cards, be senstive to the variety of cultures and beliefs that may be among the residents.

  • Make baked goods and, on the holiday of your choice, drop by places that might have someone working -- animal shelter staff, police, firefighters -- and distribute them with your best wishes.

  • Practice singing 5 - 10 short songs with families or friends, then call your local hospital or senior home and see if you could perform there during lunch or supper for patients or residents during the holidays.

  • Get a group together to serenade volunteers serving food at the local homeless shelter, or people coming in to pick up deliveries for Meals on Wheels, or volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity site. Get permission from the associated nonprofit well in advance -- do NOT just show up. And take no for an answer -- if you are going to be in the way, or your going to delay work too much, your offer may be turned down. You can, ofcourse, also look for opportunities to sing for recipients of service (people in hospice care, people receiving meals at home, etc.) but, again, get permission from the associated nonprofit well in advance -- do NOT just show up.
  • Clean up or decorate a room in a facility serving youth, seniors, patients, etc. (you will have to start looking at least six months in advance for such an experience).

  • Arrange to do a canned food drive to benefit your nearest food pantry at your workplace, community of faith, ethical society, civic group, sports facility, or central site in your neighborhood.

  • Arrange to have a book drive for the local library at your workplace, community of faith, ethical society, civic group, sports facility, or central site in your neighborhood (however, call the library first, to make sure they accept book donations, and make sure donors understand that their books will probably be sold and the money used to benefit the library, rather than their books becoming a part of the collection).

    Note that for certain activities, nonprofits may require that the names and home addresses of all volunteers be supplied to them. They may require volunteers to undergo criminal background checks. Don't be offended; respect the policies and procedures of nonprofit organizations regarding volunteer involvement, some of which may be required by law, just as you expect employees to adhere to policies and procedures at your workplace.

    Also see the various web sites where you can find places to volunteer in your community in the USA:

    If you found this page helpful, let others know:

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    © 2010 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

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    Suggested books:

     
    Volunteering: The Ultimate Teen Guide (It Happened to Me)

     
    The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering: Doing Good Together

     
    Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities

     
    Engage Every Parent!: Encouraging Families to Sign On, Show Up, and Make a Difference

     
    Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others

     
    Children as Volunteers: Preparing for Community Service


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    Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this web page or to which this page links. No guarantee of accuracy or suitability is made by the poster/distributor. This material is provided as is, with no expressed or implied warranty.

    Credits & Copyright
    2010-12 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

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