As Christmas approaches, we’ve rounded up some ideas on how you can spread joy and give the gift of yourself, rather than maxing out your credit card with another gift-buying trip to the mall.
Some of these ideas you can do alone on your own time, and some involve organized volunteer work with a group or local organization.
We barely scratch the surface of all the charitable organizations looking for help around Tampa Bay, but two good resources for finding more community service and volunteer opportunities are volunteermatch.org and idealist.org, which allow you to filter by location and the type of work you’re interested in.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Keep it clean: Take a trash bag along during a walk on the beach, stroll through downtown or hike along a trail to pick up trash any time. Or get involved with a Keep America Beautiful affiliate, such as Keep Pinellas Beautiful (mykpb.com/volunteer-programs) or Keep Pasco Beautiful (keeppascobeautiful.org). All have upcoming cleanup events you can take part in, and ongoing "adoption" programs like Adopt-A-Mile, Adopt-A-Shore and even Adopt-an-Intracoastal Island, in which groups or individuals commit to removing litter from a certain area several times per year. One huge cleanup event coming up soon is Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful’s After Gasparilla Clean-up on January 28. Register at keeptampabaybeautiful.org/events.
Pass along a good book: There’s probably one that really moved you, and it’s probably just sitting there on your shelf. Write a note in the front and give it to a friend or acquaintance, or leave it for a stranger to discover in a Little Free Library, such as the ones outside of Black Crow Coffee and [email protected] in St. Petersburg or at Starkey Park in New Port Richey. You can find a map of dozens of Little Free Libraries around Tampa Bay at littlefreelibrary.org.
Hang with older adults: Maybe it’s an elderly neighbor who needs a hand raking leaves, or a friend’s grandparent who would love someone to play cards or watch the game with. Stopping by to chat or drop off food goes a long way toward preventing senior isolation. If you don’t have someone specific in mind, the Sea Breeze Adult Day Center ((727)623-9092) in St. Petersburg welcomes volunteers who can play games or make crafts with its clients, and Empath Health’s PACE program needs volunteers to help with companionship, running errands and rides to appointments in Pinellas County (visit empathhealth.org/get-involved/volunteer/ or call (727) 467-7423). Hillsborough County Aging Services also needs volunteers for everything from leading fitness classes, to helping with their annual Senior Prom or veterans’ celebrations. Call them at (813) 272-6829 or apply at volgistics.com.
Write a note to someone’s boss: Did you have a particularly pleasant experience with an employee at a store, a restaurant or a hotel? Send a hand-written note or an e-mail to the business addressed to their supervisor, letting them know how great they are. The praise could give them a boost.
Play with your pet, or someone else’s: It’s easy to de-prioritize play time with your animals when you’re busy — and we’re all busy. Take your good boy or girl for an extra-long walk, or a special trip to the dog park. Have a friend or neighbor who doesn’t have time to do that with their own pet? Offer to do it for them. Need something more organized? SPCA Tampa Bay keeps a list of volunteer events and fostering opportunities at spcatampabay.org/volunteer, as does the Humane Society of Tampa Bay at humanesocietytampa.org/become-a-volunteer. Meow Now (meownowfl.org) is also looking for help with trapping, transporting and fostering cats for its TNVR (Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return) program in Pinellas County.
Cook a meal for someone: Make it someone you’ve never cooked for before.
Make care kits for the homeless: It’s rare that you’ll pass through downtown St. Petersburg’s Williams Park or Tampa’s Lykes Gaslight Park without encountering homeless men or women. Packing care kits of new socks, granola bars, water, sanitizing wipes and other hygiene items and snacks into one-gallon freezer bags and keeping them in your car or bag is a simple way to offer practical help. Want to get involved in more formal volunteering? Metropolitan Ministries provides food, clothing and supplies to homeless or at-risk families and individuals across Tampa Bay, and lists dozens of current volunteer positions at metromin.org/volunteer.
Pay it forward (or backward): Pay the toll for the next driver. Buy the coffee for the person behind you at the drive-thru. Leave a cup full of change by the vending machine at work.
Give a piece of yourself, literally: Grow your hair out and donate it to Locks of Love for a hairpiece for someone suffering from medical hair loss (locksoflove.org/get-involved/). Donate blood to help save a life (redcrossblood.org/give).
Babysit without being asked: You probably have a friend or relative who needs a night out.
Offer up what you’re good at: The Tampa Bay Craigslist and Reddit are filled with people’s request for you to photoshop a photo for them, design a tattoo of such-and-such, help them write a script, haul away their old couch, etc.
Answer the phone, or text: The 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline provides support and guidance to survivors, but calls to the national hotline are routed to local affiliate organizations such as Suncoast Center in Clearwater, Dawn Center in Spring Hill and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay in Tampa. You can find out more about volunteering for the hotline for all three organizations at volopps.rainn.org. More comfortable with texting? The Crisis Text Line helps those in crisis — people dealing with anything from anxiety to bullying to self harm -- with support and empathetic listening via volunteer crisis counselors who work remotely from their computer. Apply to volunteer at crisistextline.org/volunteer.
Bring doughnuts: Or bagels or coffee or cookies or maybe even something actually healthy to the office for no reason at all.
Have a yard sale: Then donate the money instead of buying more stuff. Entering your city into the search tool on the homepage of charitynavigator.org can help you find and research a local charity you care about.
VOLUNTEER THIS WEEKEND
The following events need volunteers.
Pack a Sack for Ronald McDonald House St. Pete.: Meet at Growing Up St. Pete, 689 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St N, St. Petersburg, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday to decorate and fill snack bags for the Ronald McDonald House to help ease the burden of families dealing with child illness. Sign up via the form here.
Day Star Life Center Christmas Food Distribution: Volunteers are needed to pack and distribute food for complete Christmas dinners to those in need. Food donations are still needed as well. Email [email protected] or call Susan at (727) 498-8794.
Salvation Army: The St. Petersburg area command needs volunteers to help prepare, serve and clean up for its Christmas Eve Community Dinner on Sunday. Call (727) 550-8080 or email [email protected] Other Tampa Bay area commands need volunteers for various ongoing programs, including meal services, toy distribution and transitional housing facilities. In Hillsborough County call (813) 226-0055. In Pasco County call (727) 815-8539.
Holiday Giving Tree: Hillsborough County’s Aging Services department needs volunteers to sort and deliver items collected for homebound seniors through its Holiday Giving Tree program. Contact Veronica Maxwell at [email protected] or call (813) 853-2017.
Feeding the Less Fortunate: Women Helping Others of Tampa Bay will gather at Borrell Park, 808 E. 26th Ave., Tampa at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Sign up to help serve, donate a dish, toiletry or clothing at goo.gl/8qDE3Q.
Trinity Cafe, which works with the homeless and hungry, notes that its volunteer rolls are particularly light from Jan. 1 moving forward. Visit trinitycafe.org.
No Strings Attached, is a grassroots effort that shows love to Tampa Bay residents in need by distributing clothing and toiletries every year on Christmas mornings and could use a hand. Visit http://nosacares.org/.