So this list will be a laundry list of my and others mistakes and the things that I have learned from them.
Volunteer when you are healthy. Even though charities need volunteers they don’t need sick ones. It is an unfortunate fact of life that many people do not have health insurance and can’t easily see a doctor. So while you may be sick and able to get better, it is not so easy for those with a lack of resources. Try to think of the resources of the people you are helping when you are helping them.
Volunteer when you are in a good mood. If you are stressed or dealing with other issues in your life, don’t bring them to where you are volunteering. They need volunteers with a good, positive, helpful attitude not one in which they are stressed even more by being there.
Volunteer when you promise. Unless you are sick or an emergency has come up, please keep your commitments. Many times they plan on your effort and without it, important things don’t get done. So please keep your commitments and call and give a heads up the moment something happens that forces you not to be able to keep your commitment.
Turn off your phone. Too many times I have seen people distracted by their phone to effectively donate their time. Certainly you can have a phone, but please instruct people you will be out of touch for whatever time you are donating. It is really disrespectful to stop helping someone in need and whip out an expensive mobile phone and tell them to wait. It’s basically saying that your life is more important than theirs, and that you aren’t really in the moment.
Be humble and do whatever you can to be helpful. Of course what a charity may ask you to do is probably not what you would prefer to do. Most people do not volunteer for the difficult or boring jobs. If they ask you to do something, please, please just do it, regardless of your feelings towards it. If you are known as someone who is not helpful, your usefulness is questionable and they may ask you to not return. Volunteering is about doing what needs to be done, no matter how boring or tiring it may be.
Do you want to donate for maximum effectiveness for those in need? Here is what I have learned in working with Food Shelters.
Donate money instead of food. Food is always helpful, but the problem is that the needs of the clients don’t always match up with what is donated. The fact is that every area is different. You can’t match the needs of any charity better than by giving money.
Donate things that don’t expire quickly. Too often baked goods, expired food, or fruits/vegetables go bad too quickly before they can be used. When food shelters get these foods they try to use them immediately, but it doesn’t always work. So many times baked goods for example have to be thrown out because they go stale so quickly.
If you have time, call the charity and ask what they need. Remember what I said about matching the needs of the charity? There are always items that charities rarely receive. Examples of this are cooking oil, baby food, seasonings even simple ones like salt & pepper.
Donate all year. The clients need to eat every day, yet most of the donations come during the holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. The shelves get very bare outside of those peak donation times, and it makes it very difficult for people to have meals every day.
If you can’t afford to donate, then please donate your time. Too many times the money isn’t there to pay for staff for those in need. They depend on volunteers and volunteers are fickle. It is really sad when so many things that need to be done aren’t done, and people suffer for it. For example, many times I have seen that the meals and or needs that aren’t met mean that people go hungry and get sick. Yes life is difficult for everyone, but we all can help those who are least able to help themselves.