The holiday season is upon us, and for many area residents, the spirit of giving that permeates this time of year spreads beyond our homes and families and into the community at large. The needs of local nonprofits and charitable organizations during the Christmas season are great, and this year is no exception.
Whether your contribution is monetary, or if you choose to give of your time to serve others, there is always somewhere you can help. Though this is the season of giving, the need never changes, according to local nonprofit officials.
“I think people are more volunteer and service-minded during the holiday season because they tend to give thanks,” during the holiday season, said Evelyn Riley, executive director of the Dan River Nonprofit Network. “I think a lot of the agencies have those ongoing needs throughout the year, so it doesn’t necessarily spike during the holidays.”
Needs have spiked in recent years, though, according to information compiled by Riley and the Dan River Nonprofit Network. According to a release, 89 percent of respondents to a survey conducted by the network showed a significant impact on programs, services, or general operations by the COVID-19 pandemic. The remaining 11 percent indicated a medium level of impact with minor disruptions, the survey added.
In addition, 52 percent said a disruption of supplies or services provided by partners had impacted that their ability to provide services. More than half had experienced an increase in needs for their services because of COVID-19. On the flip side, almost 70 percent of the organizations surveyed either had seen or expected budgetary limitations related to the strains caused by the pandemic to the economy.
A vast majority of nonprofits, around 65 percent, experienced staff and volunteer limitations and absences, the survey said. In the cases of organizations that rely heavily on volunteerism for all their services, it’s created significant challenges.
Lt. Shawnte Hodges of the Danville Salvation Army said the impact of the pandemic has lessened this holiday season, meaning the organization has recruited more workers to man the famous Red Kettles for money donations.
“This year, we haven’t heard anything,” about COVID limiting the number of volunteers for the kettle drive, she said. “I think that has a lot to do with vaccine. We’ve actually had a lot more volunteers sign up to ring.”
Although the Red Kettles are the most visible and recognizable source of the Salvation Army’s funding, Hodges emphasized that the Salvation Army has many more ways to serve.
“We’re not here just to feed you. We have so much else to give,” she said.
The Salvation Army in Danville also runs a weekly feeding program, a food pantry, clothing drive, provides rental and utility help, you and women’s ministry programs, as well as its Family Store, on Riverside drive.
The store sells merchandise that comes from donations, but Hodges said much of the store’s items haven’t hit the sales floor yet, because there aren’t enough staff to sort it.
“We’re grateful for all these donations, but getting it all out there to get it sold is a task, because we don’t have the manpower,” she said, noting that the store has only three employees. “We can’t seem to keep people in there, because it’s a lot of work, honestly.”
Hodges added that the Salvation Army needs more volunteers to help with the food pantry and feeding program, which provides hearty meals for the needy or homeless.
“We want to give them a meal they can sit down and have on a Sunday morning,” she said. “That’s something we take pride in here.” In some cases, the Salvation Army can hire some clients from the feeding program during the holidays.
“A lot of bell ringers come through the feeding program,” she said. “We’ve been able to provide them with jobs, even if they’re seasonal.”
Riley stressed that the need for volunteers and donors is not seasonal, however, even if this season often sees a spike in it.
“A lot of the organizations that we work with have a consistent need,” she said. The nonprofit network includes dozens of member organizations, coordinating hundreds of volunteer hours and donations.
Riley added that the cold weather also increases the needs in the area. “That’s not really holiday related, but that is something you happen to see during the holiday season,” she said.
When it comes to monetary donations, Riley reminded potential givers that while donating to a particular program, such as a Christmas giving ministry, is helpful and benefits that particular program, giving what nonprofits call “unrestricted funding” might be more beneficial.
“We’ve got a lot of organizations and foundations that understand the value of direct service, but if you’re giving them an unrestricted donation, the organization might be able to use it to buy other goods, or put donations to use in the areas where there is the greatest need,” she said.
“They might not realize that if they write (a check donation) as an unrestricted gift, it can go farther,” she added.
There are many ways you can make a difference this season. The nonprofit network’s volunteer portal, serve365.com, can put volunteers in touch with needy organizations and match them with a volunteer’s preferred skills.
One of the keys, however, is to be aware of where you might be needed most, even if it’s not necessarily your first choice. Also, Riley said, the nonprofit network emphasizes the need for what Riley called “ongoing volunteerism.”
“We have a bunch of ways people can get involved,” Riley said.
To learn more about how you can lend a hand, visit Serve365.com, or call (434) 285-2100.