Here’s How to Volunteer and Make a Difference in Your Community
The holiday season often motivates people to reach out to others, to be thankful and to give to those in need. Not only does volunteering help the less fortunate, but studies have shown that it benefits the volunteers as well. Volunteering strengthens your ties to your community, makes you feel useful, provides a chance to meet new people and gives you a sense of perspective.
Share those good feelings by getting others involved along with you. Bring family members or assemble a group of neighbors, friends or colleagues and start a new holiday tradition. We’ve gathered some resources to guide you to your volunteering niche. All you have to do is figure out what you’re passionate about and choose where to donate your time.
Clearinghouses Make It Easy
Volunteer Fairfax is a great place to start searching for ways to step up over the holidays. Each year, the organization puts together a Holiday Heroes Handbook. This online database serves as a meeting place for nonprofits and volunteers to find each other. Go to VolunteerFairfax.org and click on the 2017 Holiday Heroes Handbook to find opportunities taking place between November 1, 2017 and January 15, 2018.
Other databases not only guide you to places to volunteer but help you meet people as well. DoSomething.org matches young people with organizations and Meetup.org coordinates volunteer events for singles.
Feed the Hungry
At a time when many of us overindulge in big meals and special treats, it’s easy to forget that a shocking one-sixth of Americans don’t have enough to eat. According to the Feeding America website, more than “half of all soup kitchens, food pantries and other meal programs rely entirely on volunteers,” making this a great way to support your community.
Because many people choose to volunteer this way during the holidays, it’s important to call ahead to find out which ones have the greatest need. To locate soup kitchens, shelters, food pantries and food banks in and around Fairfax County, visit HomelessShelterDirectory.org or FeedingAmerica.org.
Check with nursing homes and hospitals near you about spending time there, especially with people who don’t get many visitors. You can decorate, entertain them if you have a talent to share, or just spend time with them talking, playing card or board games or reading aloud. If you have a particularly loving and gentle pet, inquiry about bringing him or her along to provide some pet therapy.
Many houses of worship and other organizations sponsor programs to bring holiday gifts and meals to needy families. The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program provides toys and clothes to 14,000 children in Virginia, DC and Maryland during the holidays. To learn more about the Angel Tree Program or other ways to volunteer through the Salvation Army, go to SalvationArmyNCA.org/volunteer.
Support Our Troops
Aid active service members and their families by volunteering with the USO in the Washington-Baltimore area. The USO provides airport assistance to military travelers, runs five USO centers in the area, holds events and welcomes volunteers for all of its efforts. Learn more at Metro.USO.org/support/volunteer.
Disabled American Veterans (DAV.org) offers a wide range of tasks for volunteers. You can help out at a VA hospital, drive veterans to appointments or provide other assistance based on individual needs.
Participate in a special volunteer opportunity unique to our area through Honor Flight, an organization created to transport America’s veterans to DC to visit and reflect at their memorials. The organization gives priority to World War II and terminally ill veterans. Volunteers greet veterans at the airport and travel with them to the memorials. Volunteer opportunities are dependent on when flights are scheduled. See HonorFlight.org for more information.
If you’re an animal lover, rescue groups and shelters always need assistance. Since many families open their hearts to homeless pets at the holidays, it’s a great time to volunteer at an adoption event such as those sponsored by the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation. Sign up at LostDogRescue.org.
The Humane Society of Fairfax County welcomes volunteers to walk dogs, play with cats, sit with new rescues, sort through donations to its Ani-Meals Pet Pantry, photograph the animals, provide administrative support and more. In addition to dogs and cats, the Human Society cares for birds, horses and small mammals waiting for homes. To volunteer, go to HSFC.org/support/volunteer.