Christmas is a time of heady excess. Many of us eat too much, drink too much and buy too much. We spend the last weeks of the year thinking that none of it counts, because it’s Christmas.
Why not? We all have busy lives. Why deny ourselves some indulgence during this time with family and friends?
Whether we like to think about it or not, there are others that aren’t so fortunate. Volunteering at Christmas time or donating to a charity can help balance things out.
It can help us make peace with our own enjoyment, knowing that we’re helping the needs of another human being.
There are plenty of organisations that need extra help in the lead up to Christmas, and over the whole festive period. It’s a time for giving after all.
Here’s how you can volunteer and help charities at Christmas.
Volunteering at Christmas This Year
Volunteering at Christmas is more than handing out turkey dinners whilst wearing a novelty jumper. Although volunteering is rewarding and can offer a sense of camaraderie, it can also be tough.
It could involve a couple of weeks of long, emotionally draining days, witnessing the upsetting reality of homelessness and poverty.
Giving up your time to help others, especially at Christmas, is an extremely selfless act. If you’re considering it, or you’re a regular, I truly admire you.
Whatever your reasons for doing so, make sure you’re certain you can commit to what’s expected of you. Interviewing and vetting volunteers can be a lengthy and expensive process for charities. They rely on volunteers being committed.
There are many local charities looking for volunteers throughout the tough winter period. Churches and other religious institutions are often on the lookout for help too.
Follow your local charities and organisations on social media, or drop in to find out what they need. They could be crying out for an extra pair of hands.
The following large charities depend on thousands of volunteers to help:
Crisis at Christmas
This is the largest operation of its kind. Each year, schools and other institutions temporarily hand over their empty buildings to Crisis.
Teams of volunteers offer hot food, entertainment, welfare advice and healthcare. There are daytime and overnight residential centres in large cities across the UK.
General volunteers aren’t required to have any special qualifications or experience. If you can run a fitness class, cut hair or have a health qualification, you could apply to become a service volunteer.
Those wishing to work in the kitchens or drive a minibus can get the relevant safety certificates through Crisis.
See the Crisis website for more information and to register as a volunteer.
Run by the Christian church, the Salvation Army hosts night shelters over the festive period. They post volunteering opportunities on their website and within their local centres.
As well as serving hot meals and sorting bedding, you can provide much needed company to those in need. You can also help with the Christmas toy appeal, sorting gifts for underprivileged kids.
Donating Food at Christmas
It breaks my heart to think of people going hungry. Especially so at Christmas when images of happy families gathered around huge tables of food are everywhere.
If donating your time isn’t possible, you can donate food instead, but do it wisely. As much as selection boxes and mince pies are tasty, charities and food banks are more in need of healthy, nourishing foods.
Trussell Trust Food Banks
2017 saw the Trussell Trust experience it’s busiest Christmas ever. The largest provider of food banks in the UK, the Trussell Trust is seeing an increase in demand all year round.
You can donate food directly to your nearest food bank. Or you can donate via supermarket collection points or host your own collection. Local schools, businesses and churches often have collection points too.
The Trussell Trust also look for volunteers to help package up food parcels.
Fare Share Food Redistribution
There are also organisations that collect surplus and donated food and redistribute it to charities to create hot meals for the hungry. FareShare is one such organisation. Last Christmas, with the help of Tesco customers, they donated 3 million meals.
There are permanent FareShare collection points in larger Tesco stores around the UK. FareShare asks for long life foods such as tinned and dried goods as they only collect from stores once a month. They rely on surplus food from the food industry for their fresh foods.
Most other supermarkets have food collection points too. This food is either donated to food banks, or to food redistribution charities. Either way, it’s going to a good cause.
All you need to do is pick a few extra items and put them in the collection box after you’ve paid for your shopping.
FareShare also need volunteers all year round. They supply food to Crisis at Christmas too. If you can’t volunteer for Crisis directly, you could still help by volunteering with FareShare.
If you’re keen to donate surplus food from your home to your local community, you could use the food sharing app, OLIO.
Doing so means your spare food will help feed someone nearby. For many reasons, people in need of some extra help, especially at Christmas, don’t receive help.
By sharing your surplus food on OLIO you could help a family who doesn’t want or know how to ask for help. Or someone who isn’t eligible for a food bank yet still doesn’t have enough to eat.
OLIO helps forge connections between local communities and reduce food waste. Which is much better all round than your excess food going in the bin.
Volunteering at Christmas and Spreading the Cheer a Little Further From Home
Christmas is a time for giving. If we widen our reach we could help other individuals and families feel the true spirit of Christmas too.
We could sacrifice our entire Christmas break by volunteering at a shelter or donate a few cans of food. Both are just as worthwhile and appreciated.
Many charities accept monetary donations too. You could donate yourself, or ask your family and friends to donate instead of buying you a gift.
Doing good deeds like these will make your festivities more thoughtful. Knowing that whilst you’re enjoying yourself, someone else is having a good time because of you is heartwarming. Especially at a time of year that can make so many feel loved, but so many others feel more alone than ever.