Anyone looking to volunteer in the community this holiday season may want to start planning early.
Lisa Mort-Putland, executive director of Volunteer Victoria, says the organization usually gets a call on Christmas Day from someone who wants to volunteer later that day and with no staff working that day, the call goes unanswered.
She says planning ahead is key when it comes to service work during the holidays. There are vetting processes in place that take time to keep in mind, and a number of Christmas specific services, such as Santas Anonymous, do most of their work starting in August and finishing up by the end of November.
For those wanting to go visit senior centres or care homes, Mort-Putland stresses the importance of calling ahead to make sure they can receive you in the facility.
She recommends getting involved with local community centres that serve some kind of holiday meal, as well as dropping off food or clothing — specifically socks, underwear and rain gear — at local shelters.
Grant McKenzie, with Our Place, says the shelter goes through approximately 100 pairs of socks each day and with wet weather expected that number is bound to go up. Other items Our Place looks for during the holiday season include men’s clothing and shoes, blankets, travel-size toiletries and feminine hygiene products.
McKenzie says that while a number of volunteer opportunities for serving family members meals fill up quickly thanks to local politicians and media personalities, there are still days that need to be filled such as Christmas and Boxing Day.
“When people come into the building … and they’re interacting with the family members, one-on-one, it completely changes people’s perceptions,” he says. “Now they see the family members as real human beings, as their neighbours who just happen to be living on the streets or in low income housing.”
Our Place is a adult only building, so it’s harder for families with young children to volunteer there but some exceptions are made for people under the age of 19 if they’re supervised by an adult. McKenzie says it’s best to use the ‘Volunteer’ tab on the Our Place website to find current opportunities.
Mort-Putland recommends Soap for Hope for those looking for a family friendly volunteering experience. Soap for Hope takes unused hygiene products from hotels, cleans and repackages them and then provides the toiletries to hundreds of locations across Vancouver Island. “It’s a lovely story, it’s a safe place for kids to be involved and it’s very hands on so there’s a sense of purpose,” she says.
For those looking for smaller ways to give back to their communities this year, Mort-Putland recommends doing small things as a family that make a difference, such as visiting a neighbour who doesn’t have a lot of family near by, picking up litter, putting together a care package and delivering it, or call Volunteer Victoria at 250-386-2269 for a little more direction.