Holiday volunteer opportunities abound in Eastern Iowa

From ringing bells to holiday parties, chances to serve are abundant

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Every year when the holidays roll around, the United Way of East Central Iowa is flooded with calls from people looking for ways to give back.

“We get a lot of calls starting a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving from people wanting to help,” said Sue Driscoll, senior manager of volunteer engagement.

In response, the organization has started compiling an annual holiday volunteer guide. Their VolunteerNow online portal works with more than 100 nonprofits in Benton, Cedar, Jones, Iowa and Linn counties, connecting volunteers with the needs of those organizations throughout the year. To create the holiday volunteer guide, they asked those nonprofits to send their specific holiday needs.

The needs include everything from helping at a holiday party for Families Helping Families, to assisting the Cedar Rapids Economic Alliance at the Holiday DeLight Parade, to ringing bells for the Salvation Army.

There are also many giving opportunities. Various nonprofits are looking for people to adopt a family for the holidays to help with things like a holiday meal and gifts. Other nonprofits are looking for donations of toys, books, gift cards, clothes or food for their clients.

Driscoll said many of the needs listed in the volunteer guide have already been filled.

“We’re very fortunate in our community. If we put it out there and ask, there are typically people who want to help,” she said. “The slots fill up quickly. We have a very generous community.”

She said many people want to serve holiday meals, but many of the churches and other organizations that serve meals already have a solid core of volunteers. An alternative suggestion is to contact a place like Willis Dady Homeless Services about cooking a hot meal for their residents.

This is also a good time of year to make plans for volunteering and giving in the new year.

“Our hope is that people with an interest to volunteer for the holidays connect to something and have a positive experience and then continue to volunteer throughout the year,” Driscoll said. “They can make a New Year’s resolution to volunteer in 2018.”

The guide offers these tips for prospective holiday volunteers:

l Plan ahead, since many agencies need assistance before the holidays, not the day of.

l Find the categories that most interest you.

l Learn more about the programs each nonprofit provides to determine if they align with your interests and passions.

l Form a group of friends or co-workers to adopt a family or individual.

l Contact an organization that needs clothing, food, or toys to get a specific list of their needs. Start a collection drive at your place of business.

l Take up a collection to purchase much-needed gift certificates for local nonprofits’ clients.

l Sign up your family to help with a holiday party or event.

Want to volunteer? Find the Holiday Volunteer Guide and other volunteer opportunities online at uweci.org.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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