The Season: Volunteer!

Holiday gifts, no shopping required
By LIZ LEE  |  December 11, 2013

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When I think of volunteering during the holidays, I’m usually reminded of Karen Allen’s character Claire in the movie Scrooged. Allen plays the antithesis to Bill Murray’s Scrooge — an angelic, slightly impoverished do-gooder who serves dinner to folks in a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve.

If you’ve ever had the notion to spend Christmas in a similarly selfless way, you may have realized that things doesn’t play out so easily in real life. Many charitable organizations are closed on Christmas. And while there are plenty of organizations accepting holiday donations, there are surprisingly few actual holiday volunteer opportunities. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of ways to give during a time of year when people can really use the extra help — and for that matter, all year round. Whether you’re interested in helping end homelessness or you want to donate your time to an animal shelter, opportunities abound across Rhode Island. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it might provide direction for those looking to be a bit more like Claire and a little less like Scrooge in 2014.

HUNGER

According to 2012 stats from the United States Census Bureau, about 13.7 percent of Rhode Islanders (roughly 139,000 people) were living in households with an income below the federal poverty level. That same year, according to the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, nearly 5000 folks in RI — about 1200 of whom were children — experienced homelessness. For those who want to get involved in working to end homelessness and poverty in RI, there are a number of organizations accepting donations and volunteers, not just at Christmas time, but all year long.

Cyndi Elder, director of communications at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank , says her organization feeds about 68,000 people every month through its statewide network of food pantries and meal sites. That’s an all time high since the organization was founded in 1982. Right now, the volunteer slots for sorting food are completely filled, Elder says, but the RICFB’s Holiday Meal Drive is currently under way until the end of December, and they’re still about 100,000 pounds short of their goal of collecting 350,000 by year’s end. Thankfully, they’ve made it incredibly easy to contribute.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Bring non-perishable food donations to RICFB (200 Niantic Avenue, Providence) Monday through Friday between 8 am and 5 pm. For those who want to make a greater impact, Elder suggests hosting a food or fund drive in your own community through a school, church, or business. If you don’t have time for that, you can always simply pick up your cell phone and text “RIFood” to the number 501501 and a 10 dollar donation to the food bank will show up on your next phone bill. And of course, there are a number of other ways to give online via rifoodbank.org.

HOMELESSNESS

Joe Graziano, community outreach and volunteer coordinator at Crossroads Rhode Island , a shelter and resource center for the state’s homeless population, says Crossroads is always looking for help. And the holidays are no exception. “It’s busy every day of every month of the year,” he says. While the shelter is not looking for volunteers on Christmas Day, there are several other ways to help make an already stressful time of year a bit easier for those in need.

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