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!). Local groups and organizations schedule many of these opportunities annually.
You don’t have to miss out volunteering in your community this holiday season.
We hope that these tips will get you started on your journey of volunteerism:
- Start looking early. Get in touch with your local Volunteer Center and get started. See local volunteer opportunities at www.handsontexarkana.org.
- 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.
- Call your local United Way and ask for a list of homeless shelters, like Randy Sams’ 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.
- Try 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 to sign up and again in December for newer opportunities. There are many great opportunities that could help your local Boys and Girls Clubs.
- 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 veteran’s 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.
- Reach out to children care centers such as Watersprings Ranch, Opportunities, and The WJ Horse Ranch. Don’t forget the orphanages such as, the Texarkana Orphanage and children in foster care with your local DHS offices. You can call DHS and speak with a coordinator for children in foster care who need gifts for Christmas.
- 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 sensitive to the variety of cultures and beliefs that may be among the residents. Try contacting organizations who mentor children of incarcerated parents.
- 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 sensitive to the variety of cultures and beliefs that may be among the residents. Think about local Assistant Living and Nursing Homes are great choices for group activities during the holidays.
- 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 you’re going to delay work too much, your offer may be turned down. You can, of course, 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 and spread lots of holiday cheer.
· Clean up or decorate a room in a facility serving youth, seniors, patients, etc. (you may have to start looking 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.