Tis the season of love and understanding.
That’s the message of this time of year, and in the run-up to Christmas you’ll see numerous appeal about how to do your bit for those less fortunate.
This is amazing, and if you are donating or lending your time to a charity, then well done. But need doesn’t end when the tree comes down.
The Trussell Trust, Britain’s biggest food bank charity, found in their State of Hunger survey that one in 50 UK households used a food bank in 2018-19, and around three million food parcels were given out over the course of the year.
Figures showed that 4,751 people slept rough across England on any given night in 2017 – a 15% increase compared to the previous year, and more than double the amount in 2010.
1.9 million older people right here in the UK often feel ignored or invisible, and around n estimated 14.3 million people are in poverty in the UK.
This is the country we inhabit, and while the warm, cosy glow of Christmas or the result of the recent election that makes you feel something about it, it’s not going to change overnight.
Charities see a huge drop in volunteers once Christmas. Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director for Age UK, told Metro.co.uk: ‘Christmas is a key time for us, not only to raise awareness of those who will spend the festive season alone with their problems but also to generate much-needed funds for our work, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who chooses to support us or gets in touch during this time.
Amy Klein, Senior Direct Marketing Manager at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint echoed these statements, telling Metro.co.uk: ‘During the Christmas period, there is a significant fluctuation around offers of volunteers and donations, which is something we greatly appreciate.
‘Unfortunately, youth homelessness is an issue all year round – and our work is holistic, and long-term with young people, we are there to provide accommodation, training and all types of support to help young people leave homelessness behind for good.’
That’s why it’s vital to ensure that support you give doesn’t stop. If you are feeling a pang of needing to get involved to help people, and want to make a difference, here’s how.
How to volunteer in the New Year
The first thing you need to do, is decide which cause matters to you most.
Perhaps mental health is something close to your heart, in which case you could train as a volunteer for Samaritans. Or, perhaps your local area has a dearth of youth facilities, so you’d like to do your part by volunteering at a community-run youth club.
You can find a list of local charities here, and sort the list based on causes like animal welfare, rescue services, and culture among others.
As well as working out which charity you’d like to support, you need to work out what skills, time, or resources you have available.
Some charities will have specific needs in terms of volunteering, which may come in the form of befrienders for the elderly, accounting and secretarial helpers, or PR people who can volunteer to spread the word.
It may even be that they just need someone to move boxes and heavy items, in which case your brawn will be much appreciated.
Ensure you don’t overcommit yourself in a fit of desire to help. While it’s understandable in the current climate that you might want to give yourself entirely, stretching yourself too thin won’t help anyone.
Set a realistic amount of time that you can offer up weekly or monthly, so when you speak to your chosen charity, you can ensure you’ll be truly ready to help when you do sign up.
Amy Klein says: ‘The need for volunteers does not exist only during the festive period but all year, so we only look for volunteers who are able to make that longer term commitment to providing support for the young people.’
While man hours are absolutely necessary, for some charities the biggest hurdle is financial.
Not everybody has the money to donate, but if you do have spare funds it’s something to consider.
Perhaps you could set up a rounding-up feature on your banking app (Monzo allow you to do this), where each spend is rounded up to the nearest pound and put in a pot. Every few months or so, you could send it off to a different charity.
Alternatively, a small standing order that comes out on payday might not be noticeable to you, but will make a big difference wherever it goes.
And don’t forget to use Gift Aid if it’s applicable, as it really boosts the money that goes to good causes.
What food banks need
If you’d like to give food to one of your local food banks, you can give them a ring or check on their Facebook page to see what kinds of items they’re short of.
All donations are greatly welcomed, but food parcels tend to be made up with specific amounts of items (such as tinned fruit, tinned fish, pasta, tinned vegetables, fresh items donated through FareShare).
If they’re short on a specific thing, it’s a massive help to bump up that specific stock so that service users can have balanced and full food parcels.
This tweet is also handy for getting an idea of just what a couple of pounds can get you.
Food banks also accept essential non-food items such as toiletries and hygiene products, helping people in crisis to maintain dignity and feel human again.
Remember, whatever goes on in the world, we can change things through banding together and caring for each other however we can.
You can also lend a hand to Centrepoint’s We Will Be Heard campaign, which costs nothing and takes just a minute. They’re asking people who want to help to join their social campaign and add their name to the campaign calling on the new government to end youth homelessness. Click here to take part.
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