Bring joy and hapiness to yourself and those less fortunate by volunteering this holiday season
The holidays are a time of giving, and most people find that they feel better about themselves and the world around them when they volunteer to help at local, national, or global organizations.
The reason for this is simple: the world is a hard place, and, while we can’t reach out and fix the entire thing at once, the most proactive step each of us can take is to do everything in our power to make our corner of it better.
In recent years, the number of people who volunteer housebound has risen, climbing to more than 62.6 million adults in 2014.
These figures spike during the holidays when people from all walks of life are looking for ways to give back, spread some good cheer, and lend a helping hand to their neighbors and communities.
If you’re searching for a volunteer opportunity to participate in this holiday season, here’s our list of the top ten volunteering opportunities:
1. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
Right now, 1 out of every 6 Americans faces hunger, and more than 17 million U.S. households experience “food insecurity” (meaning the household has occasional periods where it is difficult to access enough food for all its family members) each year. These are staggering numbers, and they just go to show how critical the work that soup kitchens and similar community organizations offer is.
This holiday season, one of the easiest and most helpful things you can do is to take an active role in feeding the hungry. Volunteer positions at soup kitchens (which provide free, hot meals for needy families and individuals) are common and straightforward. Plus, since they don’t require heavy lifting or intense physical activity, they’re ideal for older seniors or people with injuries and disabilities.
To find a soup kitchen, community kitchen, or food bank (organizations that work to feed their communities around the holidays and throughout the year) in your area, visit FeedingAmerica.com and enter your location.
2. Donate to a local domestic violence shelter
Every single minute, an average of 20 people (in the U.S. alone) are abused by their intimate partner. This abuse leads to more than 10 million individuals being displaced from their homes annually. In many cases, the victims of abuse turn to domestic violence shelters for legal advocacy, orders of protection, housing, and healing.
This holiday season, find one of these organizations in your area and donate time, supplies, or money. In the name of safety, many domestic violence shelters are only open to women and children, and they always need simple supplies. Here are some items you can donate:
- Baby formula
- Feminine hygiene products
- Household goods (shelters often furnish women with household supplies when they leave the shelter and move into their own apartments or homes)
- Children’s toys
- Holiday food (turkeys, cookies, etc.)
Some shelters also have facilities for pets, and separate housing units for men. To find out what your local shelter needs, contact them and ask for a requested donation list. Keep in mind that many shelters are in confidential locations and may not accept strangers as volunteers, so you may have to go through a screening process to volunteer at the shelter.
If you don’t want to do that, you can always donate supplies. To locate your local organization, visit the local coalitions page from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
3. Read to children at a local library
Reading stories to children is a fun and enjoyable volunteer activity that leaves everyone involved feeling happy and festive – especially when the books are old holiday classics, like The Night Before Christmas.
To find out when your library hosts children’s Storytime, and how you can get involved, contact your local organization for more information.
4. Read to seniors at a senior center
Senior centers are commonly overlooked volunteering destinations, but they need just as much attention as places like soup kitchens and shelters. To give back to your community and help local seniors this holiday, offer to read stories, sing carols, make Christmas ornaments, or more at your local senior center.
Many of the seniors in these places have no remaining family, and a visit from a caring volunteer may be something they look forward to for days.
5. Do food drop-offs for your local food bank
Most local food banks run programs where they deliver critical groceries to people who are house-bound, ill, or needy. This holiday season, volunteer to take over some of these deliveries. In addition to being a critical service, these deliveries also provide essential supplies to vulnerable populations that truly need the help.
When you volunteer your time to drop off these donations, and you’ll be rewarded by meeting new people and making new friends.
6. Volunteer at a halfway house
Halfway houses are commonly in need of volunteers for the holidays. Simple things, like volunteering to cook meals or work with residents, or just offering to donate supplies are highly appreciated. These small things are wonderful ways to make a difference during the holiday season.
7. Donate your time to meals on wheels
Meals on Wheels is an important organization that makes it a mission to deliver warm, healthy meals to seniors who can’t cook for themselves, or leave home very easily. Without an organization like this, these seniors often go hungry or fail to get the nutrition they need from their daily meals.
Fortunately, your support can help make a difference. This holiday season, donate directly to Meals on Wheels or visit their website to locate volunteer opportunities in your area.
While this is a simple program, it’s one that can make a significant difference in a senior’s life.
8. Make care packages for overseas soldiers
Soldiers currently deployed overseas don’t get to spend the holidays with their families, and many of them are missing husbands, wives, parents, and children. This holiday season, one compassionate way to get involved and volunteer your time is to put together care packages for overseas military personnel.
Military.com has a helpful list of things to send people who are deployed, and SupportOurTroops.org has simple directions for assembling and mailing care packages to overseas military.
9. Volunteer at your local animal shelter
We know it’s important for humans to have happy and safe holidays, but what about the animals in our lives? Each year, more than 7.6 million dogs and cats enter shelters in the U.S., and only 2.7 million are adopted. In no-kill shelters, caring for those animals left behind can be expensive and exhausting, and volunteer assistance is always appreciated.
This holiday season, dedicate your time to caring for the animals who can’t come home for the holidays. Cleaning pens, cuddling with animals, walking dogs, or attending community events to raise awareness are all fantastic steps. If you can’t volunteer for physical work, consider donating pet food, beds, supplies, or even money to your local shelter.
10. Help your neighbors
If you’d like to keep your volunteer efforts as close to home as possible, look for small ways to help your neighbors. Simple things like shoveling your elderly neighbor’s walk, brining a batch of homemade cookies, or singing carols with some people from your area will brighten spirits and help everyone get into the holiday frame of mind.
Volunteering for the holiday season is a great way to get into the giving mindset and make a difference in your community. While it can be difficult to locate volunteer opportunities that fit your priorities, these ten opportunities are ideal for most people and can help you do good this holiday season.