For most people, the holiday season is about two things: being together with family and taking the spirit of giving and putting it into action. But although many Edmontonians are desperately counting on the generosity of others this Christmas season, it may seem more difficult to give this year, even among those who really want to.
While some economists say there is hope for improvement in the not-too-distant future, there is no doubt, many Edmontonians are feeling the effects of Alberta’s economy still wobbling from the beating it took when oil prices collapsed more than two years ago.
So what can be done? What happens when the need for help appears to be as great as ever for front-line workers doing their best to provide the basic necessities for the city’s most vulnerable, while those who once were in a position to give feel they are unable to?
Here are the Top 5 ways you can help out in the community this year without spending a dime:
Canadian Blood Services‘ (CBS) ad slogan is “It’s in you to give” and the expression certainly rings true, especially when it’s “not in your wallet to give.” Of course there are certain criteria you need to meet in order to ensure the blood you’re giving is safe to use and that your own health won’t be impacted by donating but theoretically, anybody can do this.
Nicole McMahon, Edmonton territory manager with Canadian Blood Services, says the holiday season – particularly this one- is the ideal time to donate. CBS has an urgent need for blood at the moment, a demand that has spurred its Holiday Give campaign.
“Our Holiday Give campaign centres around the point that we want people to come in to donate blood and give the gift that can’t be bought for hospital patients and their families,” McMahon says. “Before the end of December, we need to fill over 2,000 open appointments at the Edmonton-area permanent clinic and the surrounding area mobile clinic, so we are really encouraging people to come in and book an appointment to give blood.”
“The need for blood is constant but during the holiday season, we understand that people are busy with their family and friends and donating blood is not always on the top of their mind. So, we ask that they consider making donating blood a holiday tradition.”
Give away your gently used belongings that you no longer need
There are any number of non-profit organizations who solicit second-hand goods. For some organizations the goods they receive go directly to people in need while other organizations, like the Canadian Diabetes Association or Mennonite Central Committee, convert those goods into dollars to help out people in need in other ways.
But given the recent cold snap that hit Edmonton, some local organizations say there is an urgent need for some of these second-hand goods right away.
“This unseasonably warm winter we’ve had – pretty much until last week – meant that we have a lot less warm clothing donations coming in and especially when it comes to making sure that those who are homeless and who are men on the street have what they need,” Robin Padanyi, spokesperson for the Hope Mission, says. “And so, this cold weather that just came rolling in this week has caught a lot of guests unprepared.”
Watch below: Edmonton was put under an extreme cold warning Friday and the city’s most vulnerable citizens are at a high risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Sarah Kraus reports.
Padanyi says the Hope Mission – which provides a variety of service to both the homeless and the unemployed – does rely on financial donations to provide meals for those going hungry and to help keep its new 24/7 shelter beds going but says every contribution, including second-hand clothing, makes a difference.
“If there’s new or gently used men’s winter mitts, men’s winter gloves, some toques – even things like warm winter coats and winter boots – if they’re new or gently used, they’ll be well used by those that are going to be out on the streets and the reality is, a lot of them are still walking around either without mitts or gloves, without a proper winter coat.”
Padanyi says there are some clothing donations where new is preferred, like when it comes to things like men’s long underwear, thermal underwear and warm winter socks.
Give your expertise
While many local non-profit organizations are in need of volunteers to do simple tasks or provide very basic types of assistance, some organizations have a unique desire for volunteers who have a level of expertise in a field that can help their organization. Take Habitat for Humanity Edmonton for example. The organization literally builds homes from scratch to help provide affordable housing for people who need it in Alberta’s capital.
“We’re working six days a week and we’re always looking for volunteers and having some volunteers that have a certain skill, I mean, that’s a huge bonus to us,” Alfred Nikolai, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Edmonton, said.
“So if there’s anybody that’s involved in the trades that are involved in building a house and they aren’t working right now and they want to volunteer, we’d be more than pleased to welcome them with open arms.”
Nikolai said for unemployed tradespeople, volunteering could even serve their own self-interest at the same time.
“They may use that as a way – when they do put out their job applications – to say, ‘You know I’m volunteering at Habitat while I’m waiting to get a job,’ and that may be beneficial to them.”
Nikolai says while his organization does provide training for volunteers, having people with well-honed skills helps out a lot. He also says people with customer service skills or administrative training are needed as well for the organization’s retail outlets and head office.
“We always beg for volunteers every day at the ReStore and we also have administration offices and people that are just good at computer data entry or whatever, we have volunteers in our office at the same time too.”
As we all know, time is a priceless commodity. If you’re able to give it, there are people who will need or appreciate it. Go to Google and take a look around for genuinely benevolent organizations who simply need people to volunteer their time for any number of things.
However, many people get caught up in tying together generosity and giving with charities. Maybe there’s a lonely senior who lives next door who would love to have someone come over and spend an afternoon with them. Perhaps you know someone who has mobility issues and needs help having their walk shoveled. If you have no other way of giving but you have time, don’t underestimate how valuable your gift can be.
Give by making your credit card purchases count
Do you use your credit card regularly for making large purchases or expensive ones like paying for your bi-weekly grocery haul? Well, if you do, consider switching your credit card to any number of them that will match a very, small portion of your purchase and donate it to a particular charity. Keep in mind, the amounts that are matched are normally very small and do some research on the charity the card you’re looking into supports to make sure it’s something you also want to support. Speak with your bank about what kind of credit cards like this they are currently offering and also make sure to look closely at what kind of interest rates these cards carry and if they include an annual fee.
Watch below: Many Edmontonians are finding ways to donate time or money to charity this holiday season. But as Laurel Gregory explains, one family keeps the spirit of giving alive year-round.