Charities struggle with volunteering and donations after holiday season

The Salvation Army collects donations in Lincoln throughout December.

Story, photos and videos by Kelsey Newman, NewsNetNebraska

Lincoln’s local charities spike with donations and volunteers during the holidays in December.

But what about the rest of the year?

Not so much, many charities report.

For example, the Food Bank of Lincoln struggles during the spring when donations are at the lowest, said Cheri Lawrence, volunteer coordinator.

“People are hungry 12 months out of the year,” she said. “The holiday season is our busiest and it pushes people to show extra generosity.”

The biggest struggle — and one that is year round — is transportation of food bins from stores to the distribution center, Lawrence said. Right now, the Food Bank has about 1,100 volunteers and could use more, she said. The Food Bank serves 16 counties in Southeast Nebraska and around 17,000 meals per day.

“A great way to give back all year round is serving helping serve meals to the homeless and hungry,” Lawrence said. “It’s important for people to know that donations and volunteers are appreciated all year.”

During the holiday season, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has too many willing volunteers and not enough activities for them to help with, said Lauren Piller, foundation spokeswoman. Like the Food Bank, the Make-A-Wish Foundation sees its largest number of volunteers October through December.

Video: A UNL student volunteers all year for Make-A-Wish by creating scrapbooks.

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“Usually we see requests from companies to give 30 volunteers for a few hours to help gift wrap,” Piller said. “But we would quickly run out of stuff for them to do because there are so many volunteers.”

Most of the one-time volunteers participate in gift wrapping at the malls, she said. In the fall, the foundation has 400 volunteers and about 300 in the summer, she said.

“Even though we don’t see as many volunteers or donors during the rest of the year, we are grateful for them any time,” Piller said. “I would encourage people to volunteer in the spring and summer seasons because people always need a helping hand no matter what time of year.”

The foundation often has student volunteers who find time to during breaks from school to make scrapbooks for the children. Many of the kids wish for trips to Disney World, and when they return, student volunteers are tasked with filling scrapbooks with photos of the experience. It is understandable that spikes for student volunteers are during school breaks in December, Piller said.

For people who are busy, Theresa Tuttle of the Salvation Army suggests another option.

“If people just don’t have the time to volunteer they can still make a difference by donating,”  she said. “But we understand that money is tight for most people, especially right after the big holidays.”

Video: A long-time bell ringer talks about her holiday volunteering experiences.

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The Salvation Army receives fewer contributions right after Christmas and in the early spring, Tuttle said. The charity also struggles to keep up with the demand for food during Thanksgiving, she said.

“I think that people contribute when they can pinpoint a cause to contribute to,” she said. “When the holidays come around, people can tell themselves that they are giving for Christmas or any other holiday.”

This time of year most of the Salvation Army volunteers ring bells outside stores at 35 different locations in Lincoln and there is an abundance of willing people to ring bells. But the donations collected are important because they help fund the rest of the year, she said.

“We need more volunteers and donations on an on-going basis,” Tuttle said. “There is always something happening, and someone always needs help.”

 

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