Friday, June 14, 2013

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 3 - Volunteering

This week’s blog is about volunteer work. Let me start by saying don’t worry if you have limited time or physical challenges that keep you close to home. Not everything requires you to go somewhere. I have a special section just for you!

Let’s talk about the obvious volunteering option of spending time working for a charity organization. Did you know most charities wouldn’t function without volunteers? They need them as much as they need cash donations because a non-profit budget doesn’t allow for many paid employees. That means there’s a plethora of opportunity out there, folks. You can do anything from holding babies to answering phones to organizing stock at a food bank. Some will require an orientation meeting before you can start in order to familiarize you with the task and the rules. Some won’t. It depends where you volunteer. Some activities are also more popular than others and have a waiting list. For example, working at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the holidays is a very popular choice. If that’s something you want to do, you need to contact those organizations around July or August because opportunities fill up fast.

Soup kitchens are also a great buddy opportunity! Get your book club or church group involved and go together. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens are used to accommodating groups of people that run their kitchen for a day. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it as an individual. If you’d rather go alone that’s still possible.

What if homeless people and babies aren’t your thing? No problem. Try a food bank. It’s just you, a few other busy volunteers, and a warehouse full of food to sort. Animal shelters desperately need people willing to exercise dogs, pet cats, and sometimes clean cages. Child Services emergency shelters (if they have them in your area) need people to spend time with kids who aren’t allowed contact with their parents and in some cases not even other siblings while their domestic nightmare gets sorted. Libraries are always willing to have someone come in and do children’s story time. (If your library doesn’t have that program, this is a perfect time to start one!) Battered women’s\men’s shelters are always in need of help. You can answer phones, play with kids, help with filing and data entry or even do community promotion and sit at one of their tables to hand out pamphlets during a street fair.

If you know where you’d like to volunteer but don’t know what you want to do feel free to contact the organization anyway. They always have a list of opportunities. There is bound to be something that fits your personality and talents. If you still aren’t sure who to contact or what to do, these websites can offer suggestions:

United Way is a charity in its own right but they also support other charities so if you choose one of their volunteer opportunities it doesn’t mean you’ll end up working for United Way. You could be working with someone else. I used them one Christmas to find a place to volunteer and ended up at a local church feeding Christmas dinner to the elderly from nearby assisted living centers.

I promised options for people who don’t have time or the physical ability to get out much and here they are! There are organizations in need of donated items more than donated time and that’s where you come in. You can volunteer your time from the comfort of your living room couch. For some of you this is going to be right up your alley. For some it might seem a bit intimidating but don’t assume you can’t do it. Everybody was a beginner at something once. Try it and you’ll be surprised what you can do.

Did you know there are charity groups that do nothing but collect blankets and pillowcases for children in the hospital? I didn’t either until a wonderfully talented and creative friend of mine found one. In fact, she found more than one. She sews the pillowcases at home and gives them to a local contact who takes them to hospitals. You’d be surprised how something as simple the gift of a cheerful pillowcase can make a kid’s day. In a room full of medical equipment and sterile walls, they have a bright pink pillowcase covered in teddy bears to hug.

If sewing isn’t your thing, you can knit or crochet blankets and hats for babies. For those of you who don’t know your way around knitting needles or crochet hooks, I can sympathize. Neither do I but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least make hats. There is a wonderful thing called a knitting loom that you can use if you have problems with your hands or are just knitting challenged like me. They come in different sizes, are incredibly simple to use, and cost about $12 (USD). You don’t need any particular talent for needlework and you don’t have to be good with your hands. If you want to see one in action before you buy it you can watch people use them on YouTube.

This is also a great buddy opportunity! If you don’t knit, crochet, or sew but you know someone who does you can donate material or yarn to them and have them do the hard part. That’s still donating so it still counts.

If sewing and knitting aren’t your things, how about making generic greeting cards? Yes, there are groups that need those, too! If your passion is baking, there are opportunities for that, as well. Dive into your kitchen and bake up a storm. Then donate it to a local hospital, assisted living center, school, fire department, police station, National Guard station, etc. Teachers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and the like work hard and don’t often get the recognition they should. Bake them a batch of brownies to say “thank you”. It’s probably a good idea to contact them first to let them know it’s coming but PLEASE do not call 911 to find your local police or fire station. Search online for the contact phone number instead.

Keep in mind many people have food allergies so when you bring your goodies also bring a complete list of all the ingredients used so they know what’s in them. You don’t have to give away any secret family recipes. Just a list of what’s in it will suffice. We don’t want to make people sick by accident. Also, with the gluten free movement gaining ground, feel free to bake using rice flour instead of typical flour made with wheat.

If you have an idea for something else to donate but don’t know if anyone needs it, just get on the computer and type “donate _____” (with the thing you want to donate filled in) into a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and see what comes up. If groups are clamoring for pillowcases and handmade greeting cards there’s no telling what else they need!

Next week: being an online activist, getting involved without taking off your fuzzy slippers.

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