Deep down, we all know it’s better to give than receive, especially at Christmas – so instead of joining in the relentless consumerism or feeling lonely and sad when everyone else seems to be having such a good time, why not do something different this year by volunteering?
You’ll not only be helping others but you just might rediscover the ‘feel good’ factor of the festive season too.
Why charities need you more than ever this year
With the economy reeling from the effects of the Eurozone crisis, public sector redundancies beginning to bite and many families and pensioners struggling to cope with rising fuel and food prices, requests for help from charities are on the increase.
The homelessness charity Shelter estimates that every day around 630 people will be threatened eviction in November and December this year alone.
Food parcels destined for Romania and Bulgaria were redirected to local people by the Baptist Church in Okehampton, Devon after three factories closed, leaving 350 people redundant.
More than 2,700 people in the UK are forecast to die this winter due to fuel poverty, according to The Hills Fuel Poverty Review, a study commissioned by the government.
Why volunteering is good for your health too
Altruism aside, there is strong evidence to suggest that volunteering may be good for your health. A research team from the University of Lampeter, commissioned by Volunteering England, reviewed 28 studies into the effects of volunteering on health and found that volunteers may benefit from increased longevity, better mental health and increased levels of fitness which help them cope better with ill health when it occurs.
The researchers also found that volunteering has a positive effect on self-esteem, disease management, adoption of healthy behaviours, compliance with medical treatment and relationships with health care professionals.
Psychologist Anthony Cassidy says: “There is some evidence to show that people who volunteer and donate to charities are more satisfied, have more positive self-esteem and generally have a greater sense of wellbeing.
“They also are more likely to have social support, have healthier lifestyles and suffer less illness.
“However, it’s not completely clear if being altruistic improves health or if people who are more positive and healthy are likely to be altruistic.”
Ways you can help charities this Christmas
The charity Crisis runs nine shelters for up to 9,000 guests across London between 23 and 30 December, providing companionship, hot meals and warmth to those in need. Around 8,000 volunteers are needed. You’ll need to be able to volunteer in Christmas week and may be assigned to cooking, cleaning, getting to know guests, sorting bedding and generally making sure things go to plan. The charity also needs people with specific skills such as chefs, hairdressers, medical practitioners, lorry drivers and logistics managers. To volunteer, call 0300 636 1000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bristol-based charity Caring at Christmas needs 450 volunteers to help run a Christmas shelter. Skills in demand include admin support, catering and storekeeping, as well as musicians, magicians and hairdressers. To volunteer, e-mail info@caringatChristmas.org.uk.
Marie Curie Cancer Care
The charity is looking for people to volunteer as Marie Curie collectors for an hour or two in December to help raise £400,000 so Marie Curie Nurses can provide more free care to people with terminal cancer and other illnesses in their own homes. You can sign up at www.mariecurie.org.uk/christmascollect.
The charity Operation Christmas Child organised the collection of over 1.2 million shoeboxes filled with toys, books and toiletries for children in need overseas last year. To volunteer, go to www.samaritans-purse.org.uk/volunteering where you’ll find contact details for regional collection points.
The WRVS need volunteers at branches throughout the UK for delivery of meals. Call 0845 601 4670.
Action for Kids helps disabled children, young people and their families lead more independent lives by loaning equipment. It has local projects in-house – Christmas crafts, cooking, decorating, etc. – which people can sign up to help with. The charity would love to hear from fundraising volunteers as well. Contact Christina Stocks on 0161 830 7642 for details.
HOSTUK is a voluntary organisation with a network of UK residents who welcome adult international students to their homes at Christmas. Students get an insight into the British way of life and share cultures with their host. To become a volunteer host for three or four days over Christmas, go to www.hostuk.org or call 020 7739 6292.
Where to find out more
For listings of Christmas volunteering projects, visit www.timebank.org.uk/christmas-volunteering.
Whether you’re a regular volunteer or if you decide to volunteer for the first time this year or if you are planning to hold a charity event over at Christmas, we’d love to hear from you so post a comment below to share your plans.
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