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Stay Safe and Do Good | Volunteering Ideas for the Holidays

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

mother and son wrapping presents

The holiday season is upon us and that usually rallies our desire to contribute to worthy causes. However, this year is indisputably different: though we want to be generous with our time and effort, the COVID-19 pandemic has many of us feeling anxious and uncertain about how to volunteer safely. 

We have a few tips to help you spread good will—without spreading any COVID-related risks.

Share the holiday cheer

In a year when nonprofit organizations are struggling to regain any footing that has been lost to coronavirus lockdowns and limited activities, there is serious concern about how vulnerable and marginalized people will fare now and into the new year given that we’re still in the throes of a global pandemic.

 That is why volunteerism is critical. The latter part of each year and the holiday season inspires us to reach out to some of the most vulnerable in our communities—the homeless, the elderly, people living with illness, and families in-need. Holiday volunteering not only lends a tangible helping hand to others, but it also makes ourselves and those we help feel less isolated and alone.

And despite the pandemic, we can still find ways to be generous—we just have to figure out how to do so while keeping ourselves and each other safe and healthy.

Five ways to safely volunteer

By now, it should come as no surprise that the keyword for safe volunteerism this season will be “socially distanced.” Any activity you choose to do with an organization—or on your own—will need to follow protective practices. 

That being said, it is difficult to imagine typical holiday volunteerism—at food banks, soup kitchens, places of worship, homeless shelters, schools, hospitals, and public libraries—in the same way we have done in the past.  

To start, here are five traditional holiday volunteering ideas that can be done at a safe social distance: 

  • Shop for and donate groceries to your local food pantry or soup kitchen. Call ahead of time to find out what exactly they need and when is a good time to drop your donation off. 
  • Offer to do food prep for a food bank or soup kitchen. That could mean bagging groceries or chopping vegetables. 
  • Offer to be a driver for a food bank and drop off much-needed groceries to households in need. 
  • Collect new (or old) books to donate at a local school or public library. First be sure to check in with them to find out if they’re accepting donations. 
  • Sponsor a clothing or toy drive. Ask family and friends to drop off items at your place, so that you can collect a donation for a local charity or nonprofit’s drop-off location.  

More ways to be generous

Traditional volunteering options aren’t the only way to be generous this season. Here are other ideas to consider:

  • If you subscribe to a food prep subscription box—like HelloFresh—you may have the option to donate your next box to a household in-need. 
  • If you are enrolled in your credit card’s points program, you may be able to donate the monetary value of those points to a select cause.
  • Donate cleaning materials or personal protection equipment (PPE) to your local hospital, healthcare facility, school, or retirement home. 
  • Donate blood or plasma. 
  •  Order takeout lunch, dinner, or snacks for staff at a local healthcare facility, police department, fire station, or post office.
  • Check in with your elderly neighbors with a phone call or holiday card. And, if you can manage it, drop off a hot meal at their doorstep. 
  • Create step-by-step recipe cards, using low-cost ingredients, and share them with your neighbors and community. 
  • Use whatever social platform you have to raise awareness for a worthy cause
  • Host a virtual fundraiser for your favorite nonprofit. 
  • Foster or adopt an older or disabled pet.
  • Create a step-by-step guide to help technological novices become more savvy with software like Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom, so they can spend virtual time with the people they love. You can share your tutorial with family and friends, as well as public libraries and retirement homes. 

Tips for a happy and healthy experience

However you choose to be generous this season, keep the following in mind to ensure that you have a fulfilling and impactful experience:

  • This goes without saying, but if you or someone in your household isn’t well—even if it’s just the common cold—the safest way you can be generous this season is to let volunteerism take a backseat and instead donate money to a beloved cause.
  • Don’t forget to carry extra masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer if you’re volunteering on-site. If you have extras you’re able to share, bring those too!
  • If you want to volunteer with a specific organization on-site, check out their website or call them up to find out what practices they have put in place for volunteer safety, as well as what they recommend you bring.
  • Don’t assume that an organization will accept your donation—always call ahead to find out what they need and how you can safely help them.

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni

Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.

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