By: Bec Cranford
Many of us think about those less fortunate more-so around the holidays. As soon as the coffee shops roll out their peppermint latte, we instinctively want to connect with others. Our holiday traditions make us remember that we are community and family–that we are all connected.
Some of us who work in the nonprofit world get a bit snarky when we hear someone say they want to do a service project around Christmas Eve, but that’s probably a bit unfair. Any desire to be charitable and to help should be encouraged and many of us who give and serve regularly began our journey as holiday volunteers! Those of us who once were “one and done” servers, have gone on to become missionaries, outreach pastors, and helping professionals because of a two week mission trip or day-long service project.
There are many things we can do to help those who are experiencing homelessness during the holiday season.
Here are just a quick couple of suggestions that can really make a difference:
1. Your time counts– Volunteering can be a meaningful way to engage the community. Most of us desire glorious life-changing volunteer opportunities, but while face-time with people experiencing homelessness can make us feel good, we sometimes unknowingly objectify those we serve. If you truly want to serve those experiencing homelessness, I recommend investing in the long term by becoming a regular volunteer. Real life-change arrises in relationship. When working with a vulnerable people group, it is important that we don’t remove their dignity by exploiting them as our service project.
2. Your money counts– Think about giving an end of the year donation. Whatever the amount, agencies can use your funds to support their day to day operation. Often grants come with restrictions allowing only to fund certain programs. These project-specific donations are incredibly important, but it is easy to forget that providing shelter and resources for those experiencing homelessness actually costs money by itself. Gateway Center, for example, houses 338 men in our building 24/7 and along with those 338 beds comes 100s of toilets, dozens of showers, and a sizable monthly electricity bill. Without resources to pay for these every day costs, we could not even begin to provide the shelter and programming needed to move our guys out of Gateway and into self-sufficiency.
3. Your stuff counts– In-kind donations are an amazing and important resource for agencies serving the homeless. But let’s be realistic … no one needs your Prom Dress from 1994. I mean it’s cool and all, but a person experiencing homeless will not benefit from rocking out your puffy blue dress. Also, please refrain from donating expired food–ask a local farmer if she or he can use it in compost. If you have access to hygiene items, socks, towels, blankets, gently used underwear, and/or men’s clothing–reach out to us! Remember, you aren’t getting rid of your trash, you are serving a human.
We hope these suggestions are helpful! Maybe you can connect to a great agency nearby you for this season–and if you need some pointers, just ask (*cough, cough*)! If you’re looking for a way to serve this Christmas, please come help us on Christmas for our Potluck Dinner at The Gateway Center! Register through our Facebook event or contact me at email@example.com for more info.