We’ve already discussed three ways to give back during tough economic times:
- Include singles in your life who could use a place to go
- Mentor those who could use guidance and help
- Lay people off more compassionately
Today, I want to add a more obvious way to give back without straining an already thin wallet: volunteer work.
When people hear the word “volunteer” they often think of doling out soup at a soup kitchen or sorting cans at a Food Bank. For many people, that involves a long drive to a neighborhood they might not otherwise go to, and it can be one of those things we do once and imply that we do regularly with action statements (e.g. “Oh, yeah, I volunteer at the soup kitchen).
But when life is short and time is valuable – which is to say, always – we don’t always want to take those trips and engage in these volunteer connotations (not that they’re not great things to do, but they’re conceptually daunting for a lot of people who may then avoid volunteering altogether).
That’s why I want you to rethink what it is to give your time with volunteer work that doesn’t really seem like volunteer work as much as spending your time on and for other people.
Volunteer to assist in a program that’s happening in your community or neighborhood, whether a beautification project, a food drive or any number of other volunteer projects going on. If you’re looking for ways and activities, check out your local YMCA or JCC.
Another great option is going to your local old folks home or elderly care facility and reading a book with someone, taking a new friend for a walk or wheelchair stroll or playing games like mahjong (if you don’t know how to play, I’m sure someone would love to spend an hour showing you how . . . and then beating you). You could even just drive someone to the doctor or an appointment s/he might not otherwise be able to attend easily.
Alternatively, coach youth sports, sit at a welcome desk, hand out cookies to Red Cross blood donors (or give blood) or think of another way your heart suggests that you can volunteer your time for the benefit of others. If you own a business or building, consider putting a collection bin for food or toys or something comparable.
Remember, you don’t have to raise millions of dollars, buy overpriced plates of fancy foods at balls or start cutting big checks to make a difference in someone’s life during tough times. Just putting a smile on someone’s face, spending time with him or her to reduce loneliness and give them an activity, or helping someone enjoy a home cooked meal is a wonderful way to give back. If everyone who could did that once a month, our world would be a much more pleasant place to live, whatever the state of the economy.
How do you give your time?