The holiday season is in full swing, and while many of us are feeling pretty grateful, we're also looking to share the love with those less fortunate. Looking to start your 2018 off right? Here's how to volunteer around New Year's Eve to make a difference. Whether you're a seasoned volunteer pro or just looking into giving back for the first time, this is a good place to start as you plan for the holidays.
If you're not already connected with a good organization, consider using VolunteerMatch to find the right fit that will best utilize your skills, time, and interests. According to the site, there are 3.8 million volunteers still needed, so you should have no trouble finding a place that needs help.
Want to feed the hungry? Be mindful of the timing.
There's somewhat of a consensus in the philanthropic community that volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the busiest times of the holiday season isn't always the best use of everyone's time and energy. In fact, so many people choose these go-to outlets for charitable work, especially around Thanksgiving, that the services are often overwhelmed with new, one-time volunteers. Many charities simply don't have the resources to train a huge volume of new folks on short notice.
By all means, call your local food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters to see what their particular needs are this holiday season. (Almost certainly, some charities will be understaffed.) Feeding America spokesperson Ross Fraser tells Time to make sure you call ahead before showing up, and be prepared that they might have all their shifts filled.
Even if the shifts are filled, that doesn't mean you can't support the cause. If hunger or homelessness are big personal causes you feel passionately about — and they're important ones! — consider picking a day to help out that's not during the holiday rush. These charities often need help year-round, so if your local ones are capped with volunteers already, try to set up a time after the holidays you can work. Meals on Wheels of San Francisco tells Time that minor holidays like Memorial Day and Labor Day are great times to lend a hand, as many people have time off. Bring friends and family along and make a day of it.
If you want to volunteer on New Year's Eve or Day, think outside the box.
VolunteerMatch recommends looking at local hospitals and senior homes to see if they have any holiday celebrations planned at which you can lend a hand. Or why not look up your local veterans support service to see if they need help?
Do you have skills that are valuable to charities, such as doing website content creation, translation, social media management, or financing? It never hurts to see if there are ways you can help beyond making dinner.
"There's lots of skilled volunteer opportunities that people might not think about for photographers, DJs, web development folks," President of VolunteerMatch Greg Baldwin told USA Today.
Donating is always a good option.
While it's easy for there to be too many cooks in the kitchen — literally — food banks can almost always use healthy, non-perishable goods. (Think hearty grains and canned goods, not boxes of Oreos.) There are lots of ways to donate to organizations that won't burden them.
Call a local organization to see if you can help out by organizing a warm clothes, toy, food, or fundraising drive around the holidays. If their needs are totally filled this month, make a plan for helping out down the line, when those resources are more likely needed.
As un-exciting as it may sound, some organizations, given their infrastructure, really are just better off getting cash donations. If you want to help out immediately, charities can always use help paying the bills. (If you're giving to a chartity for the first time, be sure to use Charity Navigator to verify that it's legit.)
Consider supporting year-round, rather than seasonally.
Whether you love getting your hands dirty, donating bags of food, fundraising, or writing checks, there are multiple ways to provide support to local charities. Consider committing to supporting them during those months when they're lacking. Feeding America also told Time that summer is a strained time, because many kids who get free meals during the school year lose that coverage. Plus, lots of social organizations are putting on fewer events during the summer.
Most charitable organizations offer an option to set up automatic monthly donations if you can't afford your time but want to help financially. Or, if you've got time to kill, put yourself down for a standing volunteer schedule. Peer pressure friends, roommates or coworkers into joining you to add to the fun and hold you to your commitment.
Whatever you decide to do to help out this holiday season, be sure your generosity isn't going to waste. A little planning will go a long way — and your charities will thank you for it.