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12/24/2016 03:24 pm ET

How To Volunteer Over The Holidays -- And Into The New Year

Here are some of the many ways you can help nonprofit groups in your community.

The holidays are an important time for giving back to your community and supporting local organizations in need. Below are some ideas for volunteering this holiday season, and for continuing to help into the new year and beyond. In addition, organizations like the United Way and VolunteerMatch can connect you to local groups looking for volunteers, and help you find an opportunity that speaks to your skills and passions.

Make giving personal by sponsoring a family in need.  

Helping a struggling family is powerful proof that giving a little can go a long way. Many local organizations let you “adopt” a family. Family-to-Family is a national nonprofit that will pair you with a family that you can support with monthly groceries and other essentials. The organization encourages families to write to each other, saying: “We hope that by creating a bond of friendship between families who would otherwise never have had the opportunity to connect, lives will be changed for the better, even if ever so slightly.”

Put the gift of a warm meal into the hands of senior citizens.

Volunteering with a local Meals on Wheels program, delivering pre-made food to homes, is a simple and satisfying way to make sure senior citizens in your community get a nourishing meal.  

Volunteers in Maine delivering a meal through the Meals on Wheels program.
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Volunteers in Maine delivering a meal through the Meals on Wheels program.

Thank veterans for their service by lending a helping hand.

Use the Veterans Affairs volunteering page to find ways to help military veterans in your community, or contact your local veterans center to see how you can give back, whether it’s through offering rides, visiting with medical patients or pitching in on administrative tasks.

Support victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, which says it’s the nation’s largest organization dedicated to combating sexual violence, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence have lists of state and local groups that provide housing and other services to victims. These organizations often need volunteers for administrative support.

Brighten a senior citizen’s day by visiting a nursing home.

One of the difficulties facing elderly patients is loneliness. Visiting patients at a local nursing home is a great way to spread some cheer over the holidays ― and a chance to make some new friends in an unexpected place.

Become a trained suicide-prevention volunteer.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 support to people contemplating suicide, as well as their loved ones. The hotline includes a nationwide network of local crisis centers that often rely on trained volunteers. You can contact your nearest center here and find out how to become a volunteer, as well as other ways to help.

Welcome refugees with open arms.

Amid the refugee crisis, it’s important to remember that many refugee resettlement organizations look to volunteers to help welcome refugees in a variety of ways. The International Rescue Committee, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and Catholic Charities all have local offices dedicated to refugee resettlement. Volunteers can mentor refugees in learning English and basic skills, offer transportation, locate housing or provide pro-bono legal services.

Syrian refugees take notes during their Vocational ESL class at the International Rescue Committee center in San Diego on Aug
FREDERIC J. BROWN via Getty Images
Syrian refugees take notes during their Vocational ESL class at the International Rescue Committee center in San Diego on August 31, 2016.

Put an original spin on giving.

Volunteering through an organization is an effective and powerful way to give back to your community, but it’s not the only way. Some people prefer to come up with a project that feels more personal, whether organizing a winter coat drive at your office, hosting a community meal, delivering backpacks of food and sundries to individuals who are homeless, or an idea that’s all your own.

Make a pledge to keep the giving spirit alive in the new year.

While it’s always thoughtful to donate time or money to help others during the holiday season, service organizations need help 365 days a year. In fact, volunteering on Thanksgiving and Christmas is such a popular idea that shelters and soup kitchens are sometimes overrun by one-time volunteers, but struggle to find help the rest of the year.

If volunteering over the holidays fills you with the giving spirit, consider spending a little time researching to find a local organization you’re passionate about ― whether a museum, mentoring program, animal shelter or anything else that speaks to you ― and talk to them about helping out on a regular basis.

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