Charities: What can I do to help at Christmas?

Charities value your time and your unwanted gifts as well as your cash. Meg Carter discovers giving isn't always simply spending.

Each year a growing number of us are choosing to opt out of the traditional Christmas merry-go-round of excessive food, drink and commercialism to volunteer our time, goods or services to a good cause. For charities, however, the challenge is to channel our seasonal enthusiasm to satisfy a variety of immediate needs.

There are two ways of giving practical help to charities this Christmas: by donating time (and, ideally, a particular skill or expertise) or by making a donation, either in cash or kind. It is important, however, to understand what a particular charity really needs.

One of the more high profile ways of getting involved is to volunteer to help out at the growing number of seasonal shelters for the homeless. However Centrepoint, which helps the young homeless, points out it rarely takes on volunteers just for the Christmas break.

"We want to take time selecting the right volunteers to work with these young people - they must be vetted and properly trained," explains Ann Lazelle, Centrepoint's voluntary services manager. The charity will shortly open its annual Cold Weather Project, which this year will use empty space in London's Admiralty Arch, and runs 14 other hostels throughout London.

Although it relies heavily on volunteers, Centrepoint is reluctant to over-emphasise its need for help at Christmas as it also needs volunteers throughout the rest of the year.

"Whilst the cold weather is a major problem to deal with, the tourist season is also a particularly tough time for the young homeless."

With all volunteers for this Christmas now recruited, she adds: "We'd be especially pleased to hear from anyone wanting to volunteer in coming months, although after the New Year, please".

It's a similar story at Crisis which takes on over 2,000 volunteers each Christmas to help run its homeless shelters. This year, Crisis is running a main centre in Bermondsey catering for between 600 and 800 visitors each day along with a women's shelter, a shelter for alcoholics and a day centre in Deptford. Volunteers are essential and recruitment began back in September, says Crisis' volunteer co-ordinator Adam Berry.

"Although most places have been filled, additional help is always required setting up the Christmas shelters from early December and closing them down again between January 3 and 9. It may be the least glamorous part of the project but it's vital as the buildings we use are borrowed," he says.

"Volunteers fall into two camps - shift volunteers to welcome guests to the shelters and specialist volunteers providing medical services, including dentistry and chiropody. And we are always on the look out for St Johns Ambulance first aiders." There are still `vacancies' for mental health workers, out-reach helpers and resettlement advisers, he adds. Other volunteers are also needed for year-round schemes including Crisis' clothing distribution scheme and FareShare which distributes nutritional food to the homeless. Helpers are also needed to run the charity's office.

Just as important as volunteers, however, are donations of cash, gifts and practical items although it is always worth checking first what a particular charity really needs, says Centrepoint fundraiser Cathy Gale.

"The most useful donation of all to a charity is cash, although this is not necessarily the one people feel most satisfied making," she explains. "The main way people can help us is by donating new underwear, or money." Or crockery, cutlery, new toiletries - preferably in smaller sizes, quality bedding, food and cleaning materials.

The Salvation Army, which runs a network of 1,000 local `drop in' centres which will provide Christmas lunch, presents and company on Christmas Day as well as 50 hostels for the homeless is also looking for donations in kind. "We need any cash contributions towards the cost of Christmas as well as gifts and even offers of transport over the Christmas break," says publicity office Bill Cochrane.

Other charities, like Help the Aged and The Samaritans, may not run Christmas- specific support services but do work to capitalise on festive goodwill and encourage people to remember their work at other times of the year.

Christmas is the busiest time of the year for The Samaritans who report calls to their national help line rose 17 per cent during Christmas week last year. However, the charity is experiencing a decline in volunteers. "We hope Christmas is an opportunity for people to think long and hard over the Christmas break about becoming a Samaritan in the new year," Samaritans spokeswoman Emma Borton says.

Another tactic involves launching themed appeals to build up media exposure in the run up to Christmas. So, The Samaritans has joined forces with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to launch an information back on dealing with bereavement on December 18. "It's a focus for this year's Christmas fundraising," Ms Borton explains.

"We're not another Crisis, but we do take the opportunity at Christmas to communicate with our existing supporters and drum up new interest for future activities," adds Shelter's Claire Griffin. "It is extremely important to capitalise on seasonal goodwill and that New Year's resolution feeling." As well as a Christmas advertising campaign and direct marketing push, the charity is also now signing up volunteers for Shelter Week next March.

Meanwhile, Help the Aged is focusing on two main appeals - its Heating or Eating campaign to help those on low income, and its campaign to combat homelessness amongst older people.

"The emphasis is on raising awareness which at Christmas we hope will persuade people to be better neighbours and at other times of the year will build support for our network of shops and other fundraising campaigns and appeals," Help the Aged's Alyson Rose explains.

While winter provides a focus for tackling the hardship the elderly can face, other initiatives are designed to target other needs, such as negative stereotyping. Last year, Help the Aged launched the first older people's day on June 21 to celebrate the lives of the elderly.

"It's about using a time like Christmas to create a dialogue and an awareness to last all year round," she says.

Contacts

It is often difficult for charities to arrange collection of donated goods.

However, a number of organisations do run networks of drop-off points where donors can take items. Alternatively, arrangements can be made to deliver goods direct to shelters or hostels.

Crisis: for drop off details and other enquiries call 0171-377 0489

Centrepoint: enquiries 0171-629 2229

The Salvation Army: contact your local centre

in the first instance, for central enquiries call 0171-236 5222

Refuge: 0171-395 7700

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Project Coordinator

    Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

    Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

    £350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

    Embedded Linux Engineer

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

    Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

    £50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz