Ways to Help

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Each year at the holidays, there is a flurry of articles written about how to help the needy during the holidays. While I understand that it’s the mood of the season and that special help may be warranted, to me it also seems to imply that helping others is seasonal. Organizations receive an abundance of helping hands that trickle down to next to nothing as soon as the new year begins. Perhaps articles’ suggesting long term help is what the season is really about. My letter to the editor regarding one of those published articles:

The article in the December 8th Orlando Sentinel entitled “Want to Help Out For Holidays? Here’s How” had some very useful ideas, but sadly, as the title suggest, many of the ideas are limited to the holidays. While the holidays are a great time to begin or expand offers of help to those in need, there are some really simple ways to continue this spirit of giving all through the year. After all, the needs for those less fortunate do not wait until the holidays and those who want to help shouldn’t either. Here are a few ideas for all year round:

1) Sponsor a family for $5 a week
At Reach in Action, a box of food, which includes meat and produce, is given out weekly for people in need. Those who can pay with a donation of $5.00 do, and those who cannot, give whatever they can, if anything. This organization has to buy the food, but is committed to distributing food boxes without prejudice. Although this distribution is done only once a week, for many on fixed monthly incomes, this one box of food sustains them. Without it, they would go hungry before the month is out. With the help of volunteers and donations, this program struggles at times, but continues to focus on fighting hunger. Donations of any amount can be made online at any time. www.reachinaction.com

2) Create a volunteer team
If you want to volunteer your time but have concerns about making long term commitments, chances are, you’re not alone. Find five friends, neighbors, church members or others who share the same desire to help and start a volunteer team. Once your charity organization has been selected, take turns volunteering. Many organizations have a great need for extra hands once a week, which translate to once every six weeks for each member of your team. Feel free to offer your time in other areas or on other volunteer teams. As long as you keep your scheduled team commitment(s) throughout the year, you will never leave the charity shorthanded.

3) Employer charity donations
Make the most of your volunteer time by checking to see if your employer has a charity matching program. Companies like WalMart will give donations to qualifying charities for which their employees volunteer. If your company does not offer this or any other type of program that gives back to the community, check to see if you can start one. It never hurts to ask.

4) Help in schools
Did you know there was a homeless coordinator in many Florida schools? While the focus is often on test scores in our public schools, it is hard to imagine students doing their best when their basic needs of food and shelter aren’t being met. Contact the coordinator at nearby schools to find out the best way to help kids past the holiday season. Perhaps the gift of a daily lunch or sponsoring school supplies, shoes and personal hygiene products for individual children are simple things that may fit easily into your budget and go a long way in helping a child in need.

5) Donate bus passes
Many times getting to a place that can help those in need of food, lodging, counseling, job opportunities, domestic violence safe houses and healthcare means traveling across town. Some programs like Ernie Mander’s Grace and Grits ministry that refurbish and give away old bicycles can address some transportation needs for individuals. Unfortunately, women with children do not have such an option and must walk, often in unsafe areas. Bus passes are on the wish list for Grace and Grits ministry.

Next: Portrait of a Volunteer

Update: After this email was sent, I noticed a couple of articles were published in this newspaper regarding helping the homeless and needy that focused on extending past the holidays. Well…good.