Many people consider this to be the most wonderful time of year, but for some Central Texas families who are struggling, it might also be the most stressful. If you've been looking for a way for your family to give back to others who may be less fortunate, now is a great time to get involved. And don't forget that for most of these local nonprofits, the need for volunteers extends well past the holiday season.
Central Texas Food Bank
Founded in 1981, the food bank serves nearly 46,000 people every week across 21 counties in Central Texas. Providing food to that many people takes a lot of volunteers, and opportunities here are available for children ages 8 and up. Whether your family wants to sort food in the warehouse or lend a hand at a mobile food pantry, slots are open daily. "Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Central Texas Food Bank. They bring our mission to life," said Paul Gaither, spokesman for the food bank. "Having families volunteer together is a great way to give back to the community while instilling a sense of philanthropy in kids. And having children as young as 8 volunteer is a great way to teach them how fun and rewarding it can be to help others." Sign up for a shift at centraltexasfoodbank.org.
Austin Humane Society
Have you ever read "Pete the Cat" to an actual cat? Do you want to? Then head to the Austin Humane Society, where first- to eighth-graders are invited into the colony rooms to read to the cats as part of the Rescue Reading program. Simply show up, sign in, select a book (or bring your own) and start reading. Being a Rescue Reader helps you build on your reading skills while allowing cats and kittens to brush up on social skills that will improve their chances of finding forever homes. “It is so special to witness," said Ishmael Behrhorst, who oversees Rescue Reading at AHS. "I’d encourage everyone to stop by the shelter and give it a try. You won’t regret it.” Read up on this program and other volunteer opportunities at austinhumanesociety.org.
Not sure what kind of volunteering best suits your family? Check out Generation Serve, which works with 100 nonprofit partners to find opportunities for children as young as 3. Activities range from picking up litter to spending quality time with seniors with early- to mid-stage Alzheimer’s and dementia. "When children begin volunteering at a young age, they grow up to become more empathetic, more understanding of needs in their community and more motivated to make a difference," said Arielle Scherr, Generation Serve marketing coordinator. Have a middle- or high-schooler? They can even train to become activity leads or co-leads for family volunteering activities. Check out this month's volunteer calendar at generationserve.org.
The Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas
Volunteers ages 16 and up are needed at the Ronald McDonald House to answer phones, greet visitors, organize donations, restock guest rooms and more. The organization also seeks volunteers for its hospital Happy Wheels Carts, which distribute complimentary coffee, juice boxes, snacks, coloring books, small toys, toiletries and other items to families. Register to become a volunteer at rmhc-ctx.org.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes
Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which delivers food, hygiene products, clothes and more to homeless men and women in Austin, has a variety of volunteer opportunities that can appeal to families, from creating housewarming bundles for residents of its Community First Village to baking treats that will be served alongside mobile dinners. See mlf.org/volunteer for details and contact information.
Want more options? The Community Helping Hands Facebook group offers frequent volunteer opportunities and ideas. Request access at facebook.com/groups/1925880941062379.