As the holiday season begins, Central Florida charities need even more help in the form of donations and volunteer hours.
Here’s a snapshot of some local charities and what you can do to make the holidays better for needy families:
Second Harvest Food Bank
Volunteer Juli Aronow looks forward to Thursday afternoons, but you won’t find her shopping at the mall or getting her nails done.
For nearly two years, the Orlando woman has tackled the afternoon shift sorting donated food at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida’s warehouse. Hundreds of families benefit from the three hours a week she donates.
Aronow says helping her community motivates her.
“My favorite part here is putting together the High Five packets for the children,” she said.
High Fives were created when school nurses discovered children who received free- or low-cost school meals usually did not have much to eat during the weekends. The packets contain items such as juice boxes, cereal, cans of ravioli and granola bars.
Second Harvest President and CEO Dave Krepcho noted a 20-percent increase in volunteer hours from 2008 to 2009.
“You have every facet of the population: out-of-town convention groups, faith-based groups, senior citizens. You never know who is going to be sorting food side by side,” he said.
Volunteer Services Manager Mindy Ortiz said Second Harvest received 32,000 hours from more than 8,500 volunteers last year due to an increase in volunteers from Workforce Central Florida.
“In order to receive certain types of assistance, applicants must give back to the community by volunteering with nonprofit organizations,” Ortiz said.
Aronow also volunteers at the Jewish Family Services food pantry where she assembles bags of food. “I get to see the whole process from the warehouse to the families receiving the food they need,” she said.
Pet Rescue by Judy
Founder Judy Sarullo of Pet Rescue by Judy credits her second location in the Oviedo Marketplace as one reason her volunteer numbers are up.
“People care about animals and they know with the economy, the number of animals we get is increasing,” Sarullo said.
Barry University law student Bethany Szewczyk began to volunteer after a series of successful canine foster adoptions. Two years later, she runs Pet Rescue by Judy’s foster-care program. She also trains screeners and works with volunteers.
“It’s a great way to learn and get involved in an organization that does wonderful work. We need more volunteers, especially more foster pet parents,” she said.
University of Central Florida student Lauren Keane spends her free time cleaning kennels, walking and training dogs and handling online and in-person screening of volunteers and applicants for both the Oviedo and Sanford Pet Rescue by Judy locations.
“My main motivation is a passion for animals. I wanted to help because they don’t have voices and not enough people are helping them,” Keane said.
Catholic Charities of Central Florida
Catholic Charities of Central Florida has more volunteers than they need after experiencing an increase in part-time volunteers just as a restructuring of their Pathways to Care program took place, reducing the need for volunteers in that program. Anita Capetillo, volunteer coordinator, sees more seniors, unemployed and students and stresses she needs more long-term volunteers who can commit one or two days each week or every other week.
Lorri Highet, director of Heart of Florida United Way Volunteer Resource Center, has seen an increase in volunteer interest for nearly two years. Highet said that many unemployed and underemployed people with more time on their hands are seeking to fill that void.
“People find it an excellent opportunity to explore new career paths, learn new skill sets and meet new people. We’ve definitely seen an increase in traffic to our website and by phone,” she said.
Although there may be different motivations for volunteering, once they do volunteer, Highet says volunteering is ‘contagious’. She suggests those interested in volunteering review their holiday volunteering guide at www.hfuw.org or call 211 for more information.
Harvest Time International
Harvest Time International in Sanford has seen a marked increase in its volunteer force. Outreach and Communications Director Lena Smolinski said 2008 volunteer hours, which totaled 28,000, climbed to 41,000 in 2009 and year-to-date volunteers have booked 58,000 hours with the two traditionally busiest volunteer months to go.
Smolinski said relief efforts to Haiti impacted her hours, as volunteers stepped up to sort the massive donations.
“We could not have done the work needed when we were sending containers to Haiti. We are constantly sending relief to other countries and could do more with more volunteers,” she said.
Harvest Time offers a play area for younger children at 30-minute intervals while a parent or older sibling volunteers. “We want everyone to come, so we welcome families with little ones as well as groups, school classes and seniors,” she said.
Despite the time it takes from a person’s schedule, Aronow said volunteering is always worth the sacrifice.
“The more you do something like this, even if you are having a down day, you get back so much yourself,” she said.
You can help
Second Harvest Food Bank: www.feedhopenow.org
Pet Rescue by Judy: www.petrescuebyjudy.com
Catholic Charities: www.cflcc.org
Harvest Time International: www.harvesttime.org/volunteer