5 Ideas for volunteering during the winter holidays
Here’s how you can give the gift of time this year, by volunteering.
Helping those in need during the holidays is one of the most powerful ways to spread joy during the season of giving. And this year, with many families, small businesses, and communities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteering may be of even greater importance.
With volunteer work, you not only help those in need, but you also get an opportunity to deepen your sense of community as you make a difference in it. Whether you’re helping those who have been financially impacted by the pandemic or you’re supporting your favorite cause, volunteering during your winter break can have a lasting impact on the lives of others.
The number of volunteer options is virtually limitless. The key is to find one that fits your talents and passions. Need a start? Here are five ideas to consider during your winter break.
1. Fight hunger in your community
You can make a world of difference in your community by helping provide meals for those in need this holiday season. Following the widespread economic hardships caused by the pandemic, the number of Americans facing hunger is estimated to have jumped from 37 million to 54 million.1 College students are being affected, too: a study of more than 38,000 college students found that 3 in 5 students were experiencing basic needs insecurity.2 Food charities — over half of which rely entirely on volunteers3 — are having trouble getting enough volunteers to help with the surge of demand they are facing as we head toward the holidays.
Feeding America, a nationwide charitable network that helps people and families get back on their feet when faced with hunger, needs volunteers in a variety of roles during the pandemic, including home-based opportunities. And Meals on Wheels, a network of community-based, nonprofit programs that provide nutritious meals for homebound seniors, is striving to help seniors feel cared for at a time when they may be feeling more isolated than usual. Although opportunities to volunteer with Meals on Wheels may be more limited during the pandemic, you can check with your local program to see if you live in a high-need community.
2. Support those on the frontlines of COVID-19
Health and happiness go hand in hand. Thanks in part to the efforts of health care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, many of us will be able to (safely) share happy holidays with our loved ones despite the pandemic. A great way to say thank you for their critical service to our communities is to provide much-needed protective equipment and relief to health care workers — as well as to others whose health is particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. For example, you can donate masks to senior care facilities, where they are much needed by those living and working in these high-risk populations. You can even have fun with it by making masks yourself, personalizing them for the recipients. The CDC has helpful guidelines and instructions for making face masks.
Other charity groups provide health care workers with much-needed relief, such as with the comfort and hygiene items they need during long and hectic work shifts. Volunteering with organizations like Big Sunday can give you a chance to show your appreciation through free meals delivered to essential workers who otherwise might not have a chance for a meal during their shift. As a helpful touch, the meals purchased are from local restaurants that have been impacted by the pandemic.
3. Help veterans in need
Every year, more than 250,000 active duty service members transition out of the military.4
Many of these veterans and their families face challenges when trying to readjust to nonmilitary life. You can thank them for their sacrifice by giving time to organizations that help them begin their next chapter. For example, you could start a grassroots fundraising campaign in your community to help spur donations to organizations like the Military Warriors Support Foundation, which helps veterans secure housing and learn how to build upon their existing skills as they embark upon new careers.
If you’re interested in directly caring for veterans, doing some volunteer work with Team Red, White & Blue can give you a chance to personally help veterans connect with their communities through physical and social activities. Volunteers can host (socially distanced) fitness activities and community service events for veterans, helping them make connections and stay active in their communities. Other charities like Catch A Lift Fund also help veterans with home gym equipment and nutrition programs. Volunteers can host fundraising and awareness events in their town. And although volunteer opportunities with the Veteran Affairs Voluntary Service may be limited during the pandemic, you can contact your local Voluntary Service office to ask about assisting staff in nursing homes, community-based programs, and veteran outreach centers.
4. Foster pets
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a difference in an animal’s life — just a little tender loving care. Spread the holiday cheer and enjoy some fluffy fun by fostering a dog or cat from one of the many animal shelters that are facing closures or adoption restrictions this year. Even some shelters that are fully open for business have smaller staff this year. By fostering an animal, you can help relieve the stress put on their staff, so that they and the animals they care for can have happier holidays. And you get a little helper for the holidays out of it, a furry friend to bring some extra comfort to you and your loved ones after a challenging year.
Fostering a pet is a great way to make a difference if you’re hesitant to volunteer anywhere outside your home this year. Just be sure to know the basics of fostering an animal before committing. Organizations like the Petco Foundation can help you learn how to be an all-star pet foster. And if you’re allergic but still want to get involved, ask how you can help with programs outside the shelter — such as community outreach, fundraising, and donation drives — all of which can still be done online or by phone.
5. Stand with the LGBTQ community
For many LGBTQ community members, the holidays can be a difficult time of year if their gender identities are not supported. And for some, “home for the holidays” isn’t even an option: Youth homelessness among those who identify as LGBTQ is an urgent issue. College-age LGBTQ Americans (18 – 25) are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgender peers, according to a recent study. And even among LGBTQ youth who do have a supportive home environment, loneliness or depression is higher than normal immediately following the holidays.5
True Colors United, which is committed to ending youth homelessness within the LGBTQ community, offers many ways for volunteers to support their cause. Enthusiastic fundraisers are encouraged to get creative with their events. Are you a gamer, not a runner? Even a home-based competition can garner attention and raise funds. They’ll help you spin your winter holiday into a fundraising campaign, so you can give back more than you get. And when it comes to supporting LGBTQ individuals who experience depression around the holidays, The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention organization for LGBTQ young people. They even provide a safe-space social networking site for LGBTQ youth — TrevorSpace.org — which can serve as a key source of community support during a time of distancing. Anyone over 18 can volunteer as a life-changing counselor for the Trevor Project. You’ll be trained to answer messages from young people who face important issues such as coming out, identity, and depression. Supporting those during the holidays may just inspire you to stay beyond them.
1. “The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity,” Feeding America, May 19, 2020
2. “#RealCollege During the Pandemic,” The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, as of October 2020
3. “How to Volunteer During COVID-19,” feedingamerica.com, as of October 2020
4. “Team RWB Mission,” teamrwb.org, as of October 2020
5. “Research Brief: Holiday Crisis Trends,” The Trevor Project, January 14, 2019