Volunteers needed this holiday season

Northern Kentucky University communication professor Vicki Ragsdale doesn’t mind devoting some of her free time to standing outside of Kroger stores with a bell in her hand, smiling at passing customers and politely asking for monetary donations for her favorite non-profit organization. In fact, she said, she’s absolutely delighted to do it.

For the past fifteen years, Ragsdale has been a volunteer bell-ringer for the Salvation Army, a group which she said is very worthwhile and very effective at serving the community. She volunteers on Saturdays around the holiday season, and she is so passionate about it that she has actively recruited other staff and faculty members at NKU to join her in bell ringing.

Ragsdale said that bell ringing for the Salvation Army is a volunteer opportunity that is not too time consuming, and can easily be made fun if done in groups. “I think it’s great fun, I mean, you don’t have to just stand there looking grim faced,” said Ragdale. “People are pleasant overall, and it’s always nice when you see parents teaching their kids about giving by letting them come up and put the money in the kettle.”

With the holidays, and the winter months in general, quickly approaching, there is certainly a need for assistance among the poor and underprivileged in local communities. December is one of the busiest times of the year for organizations which work to help the needy, and many of them require volunteers to aid them in accomplishing their missions. For anybody who is considering getting involved with helping others in their community this holiday season, there are a multitude of different opportunities for them to do so.

The Salvation Army is just one non-profit that tends to be very active around the holidays, and according to the communication manager of their Greater Cincinnati chapter, their greatest area of need for volunteers is bell ringing. In addition he said, The Salvation Army is also looking for volunteers to assist in the annual toy shop program, in which they use a designated location for a period of time around the holidays to offer a selection of donated toys to needy children. They are also in need of non-perishable food items.

Freestore Foodbank
The Freestore Foodbank of Cincinnati, an organization which aims to provide food to those who struggle to afford it, is searching for people to help in their Christmas operations throughout the month of December. This includes various tasks dealing with putting together boxed meals and distributing them to families below the poverty line.

“Volunteers play a vital part in helping our neighbors in need during the holiday season,” said Sarah Cook, public relations specialist for the Freestore Foodbank. “From preparing holiday boxes to helping families get food to their vehicles, volunteers give the most important gift of all to those who need it most- the gift of kindness and hope.”

Mental Health America
The Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky branch of Mental Health America, an advocacy group that exists to support and assist people with mental illnesses or disabilities, relies on about 600 volunteers to help run their annual Christmas Day Dinner celebration. According to administrative assistant Lucinda Groves, this event consists of a free meal and gifts for anyone who wishes to attend, and intends to provide a welcome environment for those who are suffering from loneliness and depression around the holiday season. The celebration, said Groves, is held at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center on Dec. 25 from 11a.m. to 3p.m., and volunteers are asked to call ahead of time if they wish to offer their help.

Bethany House Services
Another holiday celebration being held for people in need in the Greater Cincinnati area is the yearly Christmas party hosted by Bethany House Services, a non-profit which helps extend support to disadvantaged women and their children. Special Events Director Debbie Chapman said that at the Christmas party, mothers can choose from a selection of donated gifts to give to their children and children can also choose certain gifts for their mothers. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Claus make an appearance to visit with the kids. The event will be held on Dec. 15 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers are needed to help set up the day before, and also on the day of the party, especially in the afternoon, to wrap gifts and escort mothers when they go to pick out presents.

Chapman said that helping with the Christmas party is a fun and fulfilling experience. “One of the best parts is that the mothers don’t always know what it’s about, so they’re surprised to see all the gifts,” she said. “You can really feel the excitement in the air when they realize that they’re not only at a Christmas party, but they get to pick out presents for their children, too.”

On-Campus Organizations
There are some at NKU who already have plans in place to help out non-profits this holiday season. Around this time of year is when NKU campus organization Freshman Leadership Committee teams up with the Northern Kentucky Children’s Home, an organization that serves as a refuge for boys who have been taken out of the care of their families due to abuse and neglect, to host a Christmas party for the underprivileged kids. NKU students can pick a specific child to sponsor, meaning they buy gifts for that individual child which are given to them at the party.

Anne Sturgis, development manager at the Children’s Home, said that the Christmas party is instrumental in keeping the boys’ spirits up around the holidays. “This event is a great opportunity for the boys to experience something normal,” she said. “Some of them are coming from a background where they’ve never had a real Christmas at all, and have never been given any presents.”

Joey Garrity, NKU sophomore and service officer for the campus organization Catholic Newman Club, said that he and his organization plan to team up with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul this winter to help those in need. This non-profit enlists volunteers year-round to help provide material and emotional support to disadvantaged members of communities, and this year Catholic Newman Club will be collecting used coats and other winter clothing to hand over to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who will give them to people who can’t afford apparel to keep them warm in the winter time.

Garrity said that lending a helping hand to others during the holidays is always a worthwhile cause, and that it’s important for people to try to take a little time to volunteer.

“Service opportunities like this one mean a lot to me and the rest of Catholic Newman Club,” said Garrity. “I think everyone needs to realize that they’re not the only one who matters in this world, and that we all should step up and help those who don’t have as much as we do.”