Volunteering Over the Holidays

Written by LIZ FURLAN

As the semester comes to an end, there are plenty of things to do - Secret Santas, travel plans, Christmas shopping, holiday parties, and possibly studying for those finals. Many people add helping others to that list. ‘Tis the season of giving, right? Here are a few ways to help out this holiday season, and year round, on campus and in Austin.

Toy Drives UT’s Orange Santa program provides assistance for members of the university community with special needs during the holidays.The campus-wide donation program culminates in a store where the deserving families can “shop” for their loved ones. Last year, Orange Santa helped over 800 children. A list is available detailing all the places you can donate new, unwrapped toys. They can even get you free admission into some basketball and volleyball games.
Tutor Students If you’re good with kids, tutoring at local schools can be a great option. “I really enjoy tutoring because the students make an effort to work after school, so helping them understand and get ahead is worth it,” said Amrita Kanwar, who volunteers with UT Pratham. There are several clubs and honor societies that tutor at local schools, including the Natural Sciences Council through the Young Scientists Program.
Animal Shelters Austin is a great place to be if you’re an animal lover. One of the most notable charities is Austin Pets Alive!, an animal shelter that has helped Austin become a No-Kill City, taking cats and dogs from other shelters who would otherwise be put down. “I love volunteering with the animals at APA because it’s a good break from the stress of schoolwork.” says Austin Pets volunteer Samantha Harris. Volunteers are trained on Saturday mornings, and can then come to volunteer as much as they want on their own schedule. Check out Longhorn Pets Alive for a network of involved students. If transportation proves difficult, consider fostering a pet.
Adopt a Soldier Give back to those who serve our country. Write a letter or send a care package to a soldier overseas through AAUSS or other services. As per their website, writing to the troops “connects supportive civilians with deployed troops and offers a channel by which to communicate encouragement and express gratitude to those brave men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces.”
Feed the Hungry The Capital Food Bank is always looking for volunteers and donations, and the holiday season is always a time of need! Volunteersusually work 3 hour shifts sorting or serving food. Or, consider donating food, which can be dropped off at the Capital Food Bank’s headquarters, and is being collected by several groups on campus.
Ready for a bigger commitment? Volunteer for Meals on Wheels. This group transports food to the elderly or other homebound people in need. They are in need of one-day only substitute volunteers around the holidays, and more long-term volunteers throughout the year.

Clean Austin Keep our city weird and beautiful through local projects through the  KAB program. You can clean up around Lady Bird Lake, report trash seen around the city, paint over graffiti, or encourage your organization to adopt a creek or street. A beautiful city makes everyone happy around the holidays. The program also offers internships in graphic design, education, and event planning for course credit.
Still not Sure? Check out these resources:
v  HornsLink has detailed descriptions of most University of Texas organizations. Browse the list of organizations to find out if anything piques your interest.
v  VolunteerMatch is great for finding city-specific groups. If you’re going home for the holidays, try your hometown for one-day events, like Houston’s Big Feast.
v  Shop! One way to help is by shopping at venues that donate some of their profits to non-profits. Check a charity’s website for an online shopping link, or look for charity stickers on store windows.

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