Volunteer time can be most precious gift

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Leader file photo

Leader file photo

With Thanksgiving now behind us, the winter holiday season will quickly kick into full-gear, and it may seem like every minute of the day is packed with things to do. However, many members of the community find it rewarding to take time out and volunteer as a part of their holiday traditions.

“The holidays are the perfect time to get back to basics and remember those in need, right here in our community.  There are so many groups looking for folks to help out,” said Nicole Coar, president of Women’s Service League in St. Joseph, Mich. “What better way to get caught up in the holiday spirit of giving than through sharing some good will with those who truly need a hand?”

It seems as though, everywhere one turns, there is an activity competing for any moment of free time during the holidays, but volunteering offers something that goes beyond simple entertainment.

“It’s a matter of entertainment versus fulfillment,” said Scott Lol-maugh, volunteer coordinator at the Salvation Army of Niles, Mich. “I think this is more fulfilling. You can feel like you’re actually making a difference. You’re positively affecting people’s lives.”

Volunteer Southwest Michigan serves as a clearinghouse for many non-profit organizations that rely on volunteers. It provides an easy way to find a volunteer activity that will provide that type of fulfillment.

“Just go to our website at www.volunteerswmi.org and fill out a very simple profile, and see what opportunities are out there in our communities because they are enormous,” said Judi Burnison, interim executive director of Volunteer Southwest Michigan.

Parents, in particular, may feel overwhelmed at this time of year, but as Burnison said, “It’s a great idea for families to volunteer. And, if there are several families or groups of people who’d like to do something together, they should call me at (269) 983-0912, and I’ll find an activity for them.”

Volunteering can easily be incorporated into a family’s usual holiday activities as well.

“We have a woman who bakes cookies, and we deliver them to a local organization,” Burnison said.

Volunteer opportunities for the Salvation Army can be found at Volunteer South-west Mich-igan, with service locations in both Niles and Benton Harbor, Mich.

“At Christmas, we’ve got a lot going on. We use a lot of volunteers during the holiday season,” Lolmaugh said. “Last year, just in Dec., we had 70 volunteers that worked 681 hours…. We helped over 400 families, which was over 1,100 kids.”

Volunteers have many options when it comes to the amount of time they wish to commit to a particular organization.

“Being a bell-ringer is a simple and easy way to get involved. All you need to do is ring a bell and say ‘thank you,’” said Angela DeVries, director of Kent County volunteer services for the Salvation Army.

People interested in bell-ringing for the Salvation Army can call Major William Walters, Corps Officer for the Salvation Army in Niles at (269) 684-2660.

A few of the other volunteer opportunities at the Salvation Army in Niles are “packing the Christmas baskets on Dec. 7th. We’ve got something called ‘Fill-a-Truck’ at Wal-Mart. We just need folks to man the toy barrels. It’s a toy collection drive,” Lolmaugh said. “There’s going to be the toy shop distribution, where people who have signed up can come pick out items for their children, and we need people to take them around to the different tables.”

“Also there are things like picking up the food from the food barrels that we have out around the community and bringing them in for us,” Lolmaugh said. “Then, there’s taking applications for the Christmas assistance. We’re going to be doing that on the 2nd of Dec. and the 6th of Dec. We’ll need some help with that.”

People interested in volunteering at the Salvation Army in Niles can call Scott Lolmaugh at (269) 684-2660 or visit their website at www.saniles.org and click on the “Volunteer Opportunities” link.

“It’s just an awesome experience,” Lolmaugh said. “There are a lot of emotions and a lot of joy around this season already, and you can help people have a happy holiday season, and really, it’s a good feeling.”