Nonprofits seek local volunteers during unusual holiday season
With fewer festivities on tap, perhaps a less extravagant menu to prepare and certainly fewer guests to greet, many in Sonoma County face a Thanksgiving weekend unlike any other.
The simpler holiday may afford some people more time on their hands than in years past, and perhaps a space to fill in their hearts.
One option? Volunteering.
Even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate life, many local nonprofit groups have adjusted operations to give volunteers a safe way to either volunteer in person or work remotely for a cause.
Redwood Empire Food Bank, which has seen the need for food double in 2020, has daily shifts for volunteers to pack food, distribute meal boxes or sort supplies.
Other organizations give volunteers a chance to pitch in from home.
"Organizations can’t necessarily take on volunteers in the same way they would because of COVID,“ said Katelyn Willoughby-Bagley, director of marketing and communications for the Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership in Sonoma County. ”We are seeing more options for virtual volunteering, like making hygiene kits and masks from home that are then dropped off and distributed.“
The center offers an online portal that matches volunteers according to availability, interest and location.
“That is what we are here for in the community — to make it easy for the community to volunteer,” she said.
Just like Redwood Empire Food Bank officials anticipate the need for support to continue increasing, the onset of winter is expected to cause a greater need for Red Cross volunteers, said Julie Mucilli, volunteer manager.
While the Red Cross tends to be front and center amid big disasters like wildfires, it is things like smaller house fires which displace and disrupt families that require ongoing volunteer support.
“We saw a lot of folks come into our organization who wanted to help with wildfires, but what we are seeing as we get to the holidays is folks have become busy,“ Mucilli said. ”We are seeing a drop off of volunteers coming in.“
The Red Cross offers training programs for two main positions: On-call emergency responders who contact families in the immediate aftermath of displacement, and caseworkers who assist fire victims navigating the maze of services and agencies available to help replace possessions, find new housing and deal with other issues.
“It’s helping families with recovery, connecting them to community resources and making sure that those needs are taken care of,” Mucilli said.
The nonprofit provides free training for both positions and each can be done remotely.
“Instead of meeting directly with a family and sitting down close to them, our response is virtual. It will be making that phone call to a family,” Mucilli said. “We are still providing the same comfort, support and hope but it’s having that conversation over the phone.”
While offering support to others through volunteering is part of any assignment, many volunteers also can gain something substantial in the exercise, said Cressida Forester, a psychologist in Boyes Hot Springs.
And as the pandemic continues to ravage the physical and economic health of the community, it is taking a toll on the mental health of many residents. Volunteering to assist others can help combat some of the anxiety and helplessness many feel during this challenging time, Forester said.
“It helps, period,” she said. “Especially when people’s lives have been disrupted as is true with COVID, that to be able to do something where you feel that you are contributing is hugely important.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @benefield.
Columnist, The Press Democrat
Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)