You can give back to your community right from home.

Mackenzie Dunn
Dec 14, 2020 @ 1:54 pm
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Credit: Getty Images

The holidays can be a stressful time for a lot of people, but for at-risk communities and those in need, this time of year can be especially difficult. That’s why many people choose to lend their time to volunteering over the holidays. In fact, most nonprofits see a surge in volunteerism every year from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. “The end-of-year holidays have always been a time to reflect and give back to the community and those in need,” says Jennifer Bennet, the director of education and training at Volunteer Match. “And while the activities are a little different this year, the need is greater than ever."

It should go without saying that volunteers are needed year-round, not just during the holidays. But if you’re looking for a way to do something meaningful during your time off, you can volunteer your time and resources this year while still being safe in regards to coronavirus (COVID-19). There are also plenty of opportunities that allow you to give volunteering a try right from home.

If you're not sure where to start, the good news is that there are more than 1.8 million active nonprofits in the United States alone, so whether you’re looking for a virtual or in-person experience, there are endless ways to volunteer. Plus, volunteerism has been proven to improve one's health by strengthening the volunteer's body and improving their mood, plus lessening the stress of participants. Not only are the people in need benefitting from your service, but you are, too.

Here’s how you can safely volunteer this holiday season, according to experts. 

How to volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Deliver pre-prepared meals.

“In years past, one of the most popular holiday volunteering opportunities were serving meals to people in need,” Bennett tells us. This year, many parts of the country are going into stricter shelter-in-place orders, and restaurants and businesses are furloughing workers again, which makes the need even greater.

A safe and effective alternative to the usual, according to Bennett, is delivering prepared meals and assembling meal boxes for neighbors in need. “[This] might be the most important need this holiday season,” she says, as food insecurity is on the rise. Of course, delivering meals is a form of in-person volunteering, so make sure that you and your family feel comfortable following any policies nonprofit organizations have in place regarding PPE and social distancing. According to Bennett, there are thousands of meal prep and delivery opportunities on VolunteerMatch, so you can search and find one that’s a fit for you.

2. Support students through online mentoring and coaching.

Tons of students and teachers across the country have had to adjust to online schooling, which has not been easy. To accommodate the growing needs of students, Bennett tells us that many organizations have transitioned to be able to offer their services and support online. "Supporting students through mentoring and coaching is a huge need right now, and volunteers can mentor or tutor on a specific subject or general homework help, offer assistance to those who are at-risk or have special needs, and even help tutor students studying to get their GED," she says. All of these opportunities are completely online, and the majority of the companies will set you up to work one-on-one with a student by providing academic support using video conferencing software. It's a safe and easy way to give back that will make you and the student in need feel good.

3. Lend your professional skills to help a non-profit.

While nonprofit organizations are doing their best to adjust to the influx of needs brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, many of them are struggling with the new virtual model of work and fundraising. According to Bennett, "Just a few hours of time and expertise can make a huge difference for a struggling nonprofit organization. Many organizations need help adapting to remote work, creating a strategic plan for navigating the pandemic, or planning remote fundraising events." Check-in with your local organizations to see what they might need or use an online service like Volunteer Match to find one that aligns with your skills. From graphic design to strategy planning, your skills could make a noticeable and long-lasting impact.

4. Donate blood.

"During the holiday season, it can be a struggle to recruit new volunteers and blood donors, says Sara Ruiz, volunteer engagement associate at the American Red Cross. But, as she explains, "disasters and the need for blood don't take a vacation." According to Ruiz, the biggest volunteer need right now is for blood collection and delivery support. The Red Cross collects and distributes about 40% of our nation’s blood supply, and the need for blood is constant—from cancer patients to women experiencing difficult childbirths to patients battling COVID-19. Volunteers can have a huge impact by either becoming a Blood Donor Ambassador (someone who welcomes visitors to Red Cross facilities or blood drives and takes their temperature before they enter) or a Transportation Specialist, someone who delivers lifesaving blood products from Red Cross distribution facilities to hospitals using a Red Cross-owned vehicle. These are both great ways to volunteer if you feel comfortable doing so in-person, while wearing proper PPE and maintaining social distancing, of course.

"The Red Cross also offers opportunities to help via phone or computer like becoming a Digital Advocate and sharing helpful blood drive info on social media. The key is to volunteer in any way you can: whether that’s in your neighborhood or from your own couch," says Ruiz.

5. Join a disaster action team.

"2020 has been a relentless disaster year, so we’re also asking people to volunteer to help people get through crises," Ruiz tells us. According to her, The Red Cross Disaster Action Team assists with 60,000 home fires each year, as well as other local and national disasters. As such, caring and compassionate volunteers are always needed to do things like getting aid into the hands of families who lost their home to a fire and providing comfort to people fleeing natural disasters. "Much of this work has transitioned to be delivered virtually," says Ruiz. So you can even do this from home.

6. Write a letter to someone in need.

Writing a note to a person in need is one of the easiest ways you can volunteer your time, without ever having to leave home. Plus, you can feel good knowing your small effort might brighten someone's day. Organizations are looking for people to write letters to patients or senior citizens in hospice, to people with special needs, and to meal delivery clients who might need a quick check-in. Either way, you can find an organization you feel passionate about and make writing a letter a family activity.

"The holidays are a great time to get out—or stay home!—and give volunteering a try," says Bennett, "But most of these opportunities to give back and help others will still be important on and after January 2nd. Nonprofit organizations would love to give you an opportunity to continue to support them after the holidays are over."