Christmas is about giving – not just expensive gifts for family and friends, but also your time. What better way to get into the Christmas spirit than to volunteer with one of the many organisations that are overburdened during the silly season?
Lots of people are willing to help those in need at Christmas, but are unsure of where to start. VolunteerSearch and Volunteering Australia are two excellent websites that can steer you in the right direction. Set up like job search engines, the sites allow potential volunteers to choose the type of work, location and hours they'd like to donate to a good cause.
It is important to keep your skills and passions in mind when offering to volunteer. A charity may be in need of an experienced bookkeeper or might be after a people-person who can help with a doorknocking fundraising appeal.
Most children's charities hold fundraisers and functions around Christmas time.
Kids who are being treated for cancer don't stop treatment for the holidays. Ronald McDonald House Charities require volunteers all year round to support parents and children with cancer, but particularly need a helping hand from volunteers at Christmas. Whether you can donate gifts, help raise money or cook a good barbie, your time will be well spent at your local Ronald McDonald House.
The Starlight Children's Foundation runs programs for seriously ill and hospitalised children. The programs are designed to bring some relief to children and their families by raising their spirits and making them happy. Starlight has many opportunities for volunteers at Christmas and throughout the year. The charity has 182 Starlight Wishes to grant to children this Christmas and they urgently need new Wishgranting volunteers to make this happen.
St Vinnie's isn't just good for picking up vintage bargains. Each year, the St Vincent De Paul Society assists tens of thousands of underprivileged families, particularly at Christmas time. The charity requires donations of money and clothing for their Christmas Appeal, but they also require volunteers to sort these items and deliver them.
The Exodus Foundation empowers young Australians through education and literacy, and supports disadvantaged and marginalised people. They need volunteers to assist in their free restaurant and to tutor students with literacy problems. They also require drivers to transport clients to special events and hairdressers to bring dignity to the homeless with a haircut. At Christmas, the Foundation holds a Christmas Day lunch that feeds thousands of people.
Soup kitchens offer meals for the needy every day of the year. Christmas is no exception. Contact your local Rotary Club to get involved in feeding the hungry on Christmas Day – they are usually involved with running the soup kitchens in their district.
Meals on Wheels deliver meals daily to people who can't leave their homes. The program runs all over Australia so you're guaranteed to find a meal run in your area. If you have a car and a driver's licence, why not volunteer to bring food and some Christmas cheer to people in your area?
Each Christmas, The Smith Family distributes tens of thousands of food hampers to needy families. These hampers are supplied, delivered and packed by volunteers – the more, the merrier.
Charities aren't the only organisations that could use an extra pair of hands at Christmas time. Your local hospital, nursing home or YMCA might require someone to don a Santa suit or need an able-bodied person with a ladder to drape tinsel from the ceiling to bring some festive cheer to the building. Hospital or nursing home patients, particularly those without any family, would appreciate someone to chat to on Christmas morning. Volunteering doesn't have to involve elaborate worldwide campaigns. Sometimes making one person smile constitutes a job well done. Remember to pop next door to make sure your neighbours are OK and wish them a Merry Christmas!
According to Australia Bureau of Statistics figures released in July 2010, 36 per cent of Australian adults volunteer each year; this equates to around 6.1 million people who are giving their time.
Volunteering is sure to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but you will also be building your career prospects as you get into the spirit of giving. Volunteer work looks excellent on your resume. Employers will recognise that you're a compassionate person who uses their initiative and has a well-attuned social conscience.
And remember, when it comes to generosity, what goes around comes around …