12 Jan Resolve to Make a Difference All Year Long
Local nonprofits need volunteers year-round, not just during the holiday season.
Each holiday season, Orange County reveals its generous heart through the hundreds of volunteers who serve at homeless shelters, soup kitchens and local nonprofits helping our neighbors in need. It’s an admirable way for individuals and families to connect with our community, and can help teach children the importance of giving back.
But as the “season of giving” passes, the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors continue to grow.
If you’re like the majority of Americans surveyed by Marist Poll, one of your New Year’s resolutions is “to give back to the community” or “be a better person.” Shannon Santos, the executive director of Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa has the perfect idea to get you started: Volunteer year-round, not just during the holidays.
“We’re saturated during the holidays,” Santos explained. “But other times of the year, we run lean. Without our volunteers, we would not be able to do what we do.”
During the 2014 holiday season, more than 500 residents volunteered at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen. Although Santos is grateful for their support, she worries about the soup kitchen’s year-round volunteer needs.
“Sometimes, it’s really hard for us to get the number of volunteers we need per shift, and we have to make do with half or less,” she said. “Without our ‘backbone’ volunteers, we couldn’t offer our services.”
She says these tried-and-true volunteers get as much out of volunteering as they give. For some, it can be life-changing. Take Betty, for example. The Huntington Beach resident has volunteered every Friday at Someone Cares for more than 20 years.
A senior citizen herself, Betty is particularly aware of the seniors who rely upon the soup kitchen for a complete meal and a place to feel like they belong: “It’s hard to see some of them who don’t have the means to provide for themselves after working a lifetime.”
Both Santos and her volunteers acknowledge the changing face of hunger in Orange County. When the soup kitchen opened in 1986, it was mostly chronically homeless men who relied upon their services.
“Today, folks come through the door who look like you and I,” Santos pointed out. “Sometimes, I mistake them for our volunteers.”
Santos is referring to the shocking demographics of the hungry and food-insecure living right in our neighborhoods. The Community Action Partnership of Orange County reports that one in five children in Orange County is uncertain of his or her next meal.
And then there are neighbors who are under-employed or who just lost their jobs. Betty thinks specifically of one of her favorite guests, Peter. “He comes in to get lunch, dressed up to try to go on a job interview, but he lost his place to live.”
To Orange County resolution-makers who want to give back to the community, Betty has a special message about volunteering year-round.
“Just try it. It becomes part of your identity,” she said with pride. “Volunteering makes your heart grow bigger.”
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].
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