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Image / Editorial

The simple way to spread the Christmas cheer this year? VOLUNTEER

by Geraldine Carton
02nd Dec 2018

There are numerous ways you can offer your time, not just money, to help others at this time of year. Geraldine Carton talks to eight charitable individuals to find out how we can all get involved in something really worthwhile this Christmas…

When was the last time you volunteered for a charity? Until only recently my mind would have drawn a blank if somebody asked me this question. Sure, I give money whenever I can, but time? Now that’s a trickier one.

Just a couple of weeks ago I got a crash course in the benefits of volunteering when I spent an afternoon delivering hot dinners to elderly people in the Dublin 5 area with the KARE Social Services Meals on Wheels programme. Whilst I met lots of service users along the route, one woman stood out and highlighted how important services like these are (and how necessary the volunteers who keep them going become).

Breda is an 80-year-old widow who lives alone. When we delivered Breda her meal and stopped for a chat on her porch, she told us how we would probably be the only people she’d talk to all day, saying how the daily delivery and the conversation that it promised was often the highlight of her day. When I asked my fellow volunteer about what happens at Christmas, it was a relief it was to know that the Meals on Wheels service continues running throughout the holiday period. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but think, “But… What if it wasn’t?”.

Related: The lovely reality of working in a Dublin charity shop

The reality is that organisations like this one rely heavily on volunteers, and the demand for people who can spare an hour or two to help is all the greater over the Christmas period. From manning helplines to cooking Christmas dinners for service users, there’s often a never-ending need for manpower over the winter months, and although we may have the best of intentions to get involved, more often than not life gets in the way, leaving our volunteering ambitions to fall by the waste side.

With this in mind, I spoke to eight charitable individuals who have recently volunteered with worthwhile charities. Here’s hoping their example can show us how sprinkling some philanthropy into the yuletide festivities could make this Christmas the most magic one yet!

Christmas often brings with it lots of celebrations, and one Christmas party that food entrepreneur Peaches Kemp is particularly looking forward to this year is a special lunch organised by CLAY (Crumlin Lower Advancing Youth – a Dublin-based organisation that runs programmes and activities for the disadvantaged youth of the area).

“I only recently became involved with CLAY when I helped out at their summer BBQ and I didn’t know what to expect, but it introduced to the most wonderful community of youth workers and volunteers who are making palpable changes to the area. Their Christmas lunch will treat the young and disadvantaged to a big Christmas feast alongside presents from Santa, which is just simple, but something that so many of us take for granted.”
– Peaches Kemp

Women’s Aid
For TV and radio presenter Blathnaid Treacy, volunteering with women’s charity and domestic abuse helpline Women’s Aid helped her to gain perspective on her own good fortune; “Whilst I might be anticipating a wonderful family Christmas at home this year, working with Women’s Aid has taught me that many women and children across Ireland will be dreading it.”

FYI: This year Women’s Aid helpline will be open 24/7 over the Christmas period. It will be manned by volunteers in their Dublin 2 office, with extra efforts made to ensure the office is as warm and welcoming as possible, including the provision of sweets and treats to keep energies up.

Homeless Christmas Dinner in the RDS
Volunteering can make the individual come away feeling like they got more out of the experience than they could ever have expected. At least, this is how Marie Kelly (IMAGE Fashion Editor) felt when she volunteered at the Christmas Day Dinner For The Homeless in Dublin’s RDS, in an effort to finish a bad year on a good note a few years ago.

“This was a difficult year for me, and I wanted to find something positive to do, so I spent it fillingfood parcels in the RDS with hundreds of others for the homeless men and women to take away with them after the dinner. It definitely gave me the boost I needed, and to be honest I feel I got far more from the experience than I was able to give”
– Marie Kelly

FYI: All volunteering opportunities for this year’s Homeless Dinner at the RDS are now filled, but applications will be available in the new year for Christmas 2019.

Related: A beginner’s guide to Meals on Wheels volunteering (and why it’s so great)

ARC Cancer Support

For Bridie O’Reilly, volunteering is her way of giving back. Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Bridie availed of ARC Cancer Support’s free counselling and treatments and was always grateful of the warm welcome and cup of tea that the volunteers provided.

“You don’t need to have had cancer to be a good Arc volunteer, anyone can put their name forward and training is provided. We always need extra volunteers at Christmas for fundraising and to cover holiday shifts, the hope is just that some will stay on thereafter!”
– Bridie O’Reilly

Dublin Simon Community
For some, the desire to volunteer comes with the desire to improve the community in which they live.
“I was born and bred in Dublin and over time I saw homelessness becoming more and more of an issue in the city that I love, and I knew I had to do what I could to help” says Leinster Rugby player, Ross Byrne, who took a proactive approach and reached out to Dublin Simon Community to see how he could help the homeless in his area. Ross has since become an ambassador for the Simon Home Run, helping to raise thousands for the charity and encouraging others to support the cause.

FYI: This Christmas the Dublin Simon Community have lots of other opportunities for people volunteer; from organising a “Sing For Simon” carol singing event at your local shopping centre, to volunteering as a bucket-shaker throughout the month of December.

What about those who prefer their charity endeavours to be a bit more… customised? Barnardos volunteer, Diana Fitzpatrick provides a great example.

“I feel very strongly about supporting our country’s most vulnerable children, and I also love baking, scrabble… I started ‘Dalkey Scrabblers’ as a way to incorporate all my interests whilst raising money for the amazing work Barnardos does. Every week the group comes together to play scrabble, enjoy baked treats and have a laugh, and people can contribute whatever they want to our donation box. It’s a simple idea, but our group has been growing steadily over the years with the support of Barnardos, so I’d definitely urge others to do something similar.”
– Diana Fitzpatrick

FYI: Other ways to support Barnardos this Christmas include taking part in their Teddy Bear Raffle appeal, or volunteering at one of the Christmas parties organised for service users around the country.

Cindy O’Shea will be manning a helpline for the Samaritans’ Cork branch this Christmas day, as she has done for the last 10 years. “We always need new volunteers, the last thing we want is a situation in which someone who really needed us couldn’t get through because there weren’t enough volunteers available…”.

FYI: This year each of Samaritans’ 20 branches across Ireland will contribute to ensure that its phoneline be kept open 24/7, with volunteers doing three-hour shifts to make this happen.

It’s not just humans who need help this Christmas either, as any of the animal-loving volunteers at the DSPCA and ISPCA will tell you. These charities work to promote animal welfare and prevent animal cruelty in Ireland, and they need volunteers to help raise funds and tend to the rescued animals over Christmas, as much as they do all year-round. Mary Daly, Animal Care Assistant of the ISPCA will be spending her Christmas Day caring for the rescued animals at the ISPCA’s Longford centre.

“Animals have so much love to give in spite of the horrible conditions they were rescued from. To me, giving them the extra love and attention they deserve really captures what the holiday is all about”

– Mary Daly, ISPCA Animal Care Assistant.