In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, nothing is more needed than a helping hand. However, area social service agencies are reporting not just higher needs, but reduced numbers of volunteers.
Many volunteers tend to be older and therefore high-risk for COVID-19, which means they are unable to continue showing up for the valuable work they do that keeps these organizations ticking.
Despite COVID-19 regulations, there are many ways you and your family can volunteer to help others in our community. Kids of all ages can help sort donations, drive to drop off meals, clean agency spaces or organize collection drives. Teenagers can also collect volunteer hours needed for scholarships and college applications.
“We simply could not address the need without the help of our volunteer force,” says Shannon Hannon Oliviero, external affairs officer at Feeding Tampa Bay. “Our neighbors need us more than ever before.”
Here are three ways to start—or continue—your family’s giving tradition.
The following agencies are still accepting in-person volunteers, although many have mask and social distancing guidelines in place.
With the expectation of serving up to 40,000 families across five counties this holiday season, volunteers are needed to work in the kitchens; distribute food boxes; sort items and serve customers in the Thrift Store; help maintain the campus and help resident families; and participate in the organization’s annual Holiday Tent. Kids as young as 8 can participate in some of the activities, though you have to be at least 14 to volunteer without an adult. You’ll need a mask, get a temperature check and be socially distanced during your volunteering. metromin.org
Feeding Tampa Bay
Nearly 700 volunteers help this organization provide 2 million meals per week to 10 counties. Volunteers as young as 5 can help sort food at the warehouse with an accompanying adult. Those 16 and above can sign up themselves (or with a friend or school group) and can also serve at the organization’s Trinity Café. COVID-19 precautions include temperature check points at entrances, social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing stations. feedingtampabay.org/volunteer
Kids Helping Kids Pasco County
Local mom Michelle Patel’s organization encourages kids to give back to their community by preparing and donating food and backpacks of school supplies. This holiday season, the organization will host a Thanksgiving Drive Sunday, Nov. 22 in Land O’ Lakes. Restrictions will be in place to maintain social distancing and keep everyone safe. Families are welcome to volunteer and must sign up for a specific time slot in order to limit crowds. Follow Facebook.com/KidsHelpingKidsPasco to learn more about other volunteer opportunities, including a Christmas toy and food drive in December.
Toys for Tots
Since 1947, the Marine Corps has donated millions of toys to children through the Toys for Tots Program. Families can volunteer by organizing toy drives in their community and bringing the toys to the warehouse or by sorting toys at the warehouse for distribution. Around mid-November is when the need for volunteers really kicks up. Children ages 5-14 need to be supervised by someone over 18, while those over 15 may be unsupervised with permission and signed waivers. tampa-fl.toysfortots.org
Humane Society of Tampa Bay
If your little ones love animals and want to give back, here’s the perfect organization for your family to look into. Children ages 5 to 12 can read to animals in the Paws for Literacy program. Children under 16 can volunteer with a parent or guardian to walk dogs, play with cats and clean kennels. Everyone is required to have their temperature taken upon entry and wear face masks. Volunteers can also collect items from the organization’s wish list to donate. humanesocietytampa.org/become-a-volunteer/
Meals on Wheels Tampa
This organization needs volunteers to help deliver nutritious meals to serves seniors who live independently but may have trouble getting food. Because many regular volunteers are older and high-risk, and because many corporate volunteers now work remotely, the organization is facing sudden declines in volunteer numbers. There are routes all over Tampa Bay to choose from, and drivers will make contactless deliveries at the door. Children riding with their parents will not only learn a valuable lesson in giving but can brighten a senior’s day with a wave and a friendly word from a safe distance. Those 18 and above can drive their own routes and get community service hours. mowtampa.org
ORGANIZE A DRIVE
Some organizations aren’t open to volunteers at this time but are accepting donations of necessary items.
The Junior League of Tampa Diaper Bank
The only diaper bank in Hillsborough County is best served by organizing a diaper drive. Host a “diaper drop” location at home, at a school or daycare or even a community location like dance class, soccer or art class. JLT’s Diaper Bank works with community partners including Metropolitan Ministries, Champions for Children, Children’s Home Network, The Spring and many more. jltampa.org/diaperbank/diaper-bank-host-a-diaper-drive/
Pinellas County’s community diaper bank provides diapers, wipes, clean clothing and other necessities such as toiletries, bottles and diaper bags to agencies around the county who then distribute them to needy families. babycyclefl.org
This grassroots, volunteer-driven organization serves underprivileged students in Hillsborough County, where more than 60 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches, and 4,700 students are identified as homeless. OASIS provides them with clothes, shoes and personal hygiene items. To find out how to collect and donate items, visit oasis-network.org/how-you-can-help.html.
Whether small or large, sometimes an influx of cash is the best way to help an organization. New toys are also a big need.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay
This organization provides a place to stay, meals and support for families whose children are undergoing medical treatments. Four houses (three in St. Pete and one in Tampa) offer 80 bedrooms and private baths. Dedicated volunteers provide the services that help make this a home away from home for families. Because volunteers are currently unable to come in and cook, the charity is experiencing financial strain trying to feed all its beneficiaries. Brenyn Stoyanov, director of operations, says donations through the agency’s Amazon wish list, direct donations and partnering with Amazon Smile are all ways that will help the charity help families this year. https://rmhctampabay.org
Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay
You can help ensure a local foster child has a holiday to remember by donating to help fulfill their holiday wish list. You can even leave a heart felt message that will be delivered to the child when you donate. Donations start at $10. Every penny counts! Click here to learn more about how you can help: heartgallerytampa.org
These are just a handful of local organizations that offer opportunities. Don’t forget to check in with your school’s PTAs and PTSAs , houses of worship, groups making masks and face shields and those working for voting and election causes.
*Article originally published in the November 2020 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine