The spirit of service: Holiday volunteering for families

Volunteers for the Food and Care Coalition's Thanksgiving dinner help clean up after the meal. (Photo courtesy Food & Care Coalition)

Volunteers for the Food and Care Coalition’s Thanksgiving dinner help clean up after the meal. (Photo courtesy Food & Care Coalition)

There’s no better antidote to the Christmas “gimmies” than to teach your children to serve those in need. If you’d like to plan a service project for a family night or visit a community organization to volunteer over the holidays, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Get started immediately

This time of year, local community organizations see a flood of willing volunteers, said Michaelann Gardner, marketing and communications manager for the United Way of Utah County. For example, some people sign up to serve holiday meals to the homeless at the Provo-based Food & Care Coalition a year in advance. Particularly if you have a large family (or a youth group), advance notice to volunteer organizations is crucial.

2. Dial 211

Dialing 211 (select those numbers carefully!) allows you to connect with your local United Way, a system of charities, volunteers and contributors serving the community. There, a volunteer coordinator can help you find an opportunity that’s the right fit for your family, said Gardner.

3. Be prepared for behind-the-scenes work

While you may have visions of your children serving food in a soup kitchen line, sometimes the most crucial holiday work is done behind the scenes, Gardner said. This could mean stacking boxes at a food bank, or going door to door in your neighborhood to collect canned goods. Pitch in wherever you are needed and teach your children that service doesn’t have to be in the spotlight to be meaningful.

4. Think local

Remember, you don’t have to sign up with a community organization in order to be a volunteer. “A lot of times the most meaningful service opportunities are the ones that are there right in front of our noses,” Gardner said. This can mean self-directed service such as caroling at a local care center or visiting a neighbor who is lonely. Small acts of service — such as baking cookies or writing letters to someone in the military — work especially well for families with babies and toddlers.

5. Spread the love year-round

Think of holiday giving as a way to start a year-round tradition of service in your family. While community organizations see a spike in volunteering around Thanksgiving and Christmas, this spirit of service tends to diminish a bit in the following months. “We hope you come back in February and March, when we need it even more,” Gardner said. “Using it as a springboard for year-round engagement would be awesome.”

Click here to learn more about specific organizations in Utah County that need your help this holiday season.

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3 Responses to "The spirit of service: Holiday volunteering for families"

  1. Rebecca Hammond says:

    Am I too late to sign up my family of four to serve dinner to the homeless on Thanksgiving Day?

  2. sheri Eggers says:

    I would like to offer my service all day for thanksgiving

  3. Kathy hansen says:

    My husband and I would like to help on Christmas Eve if you have anything that evening.

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