Mom Sqaud Contributor: Laura Wagnar
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many of us are looking for ways to give back! My friend and fellow Junior Leaguer, Deanna has asked for me to share some ideas about how you may be able to show love to your community during the holiday season. I’m currently serving in the VP of Community Impact role with JLA, and during Covid, we’ve had to think creatively about how to respond to community needs through virtual service, direct service, and remote/distant service opportunities. Some of the following opportunities may also be great ways to get your kids involved in service, too!
- Beautification Projects
It is incredible how therapeutic this particular work can be – especially in the crisp Fall weather. Recently, JLA had a large service weekend which included a playground cleanup at a local childcare program, as well as a grounds cleanup project at a neighborhood-based community service non-profit. In one, we cleaned and fixed up playground equipment, and in the other, we raked leaves, pulled weeds, and laid down pine straw. I was onsite for the grounds clean up effort, and the five of us who gathered together (in a masked and socially distant way outside) enjoyed the fellowship and mutual work at hand. This would be a great idea for a family, or for a small group of friends – and it doesn’t take much to see a significant impact – just some yard tools and some old-fashioned sweat equity.
- Thank you cards OR “Thinking of you” cards
I doubt we’ll think of our Essential Services Workforce in the same way ever again after the pandemic subsides. Our childcare teachers and administrators, law enforcement and first responders, medical professionals and pharmacists, food and grocery store personnel and food delivery personnel, local restaurant staff, and other critical service industry workers have made it possible for so many families to stay employed, remain healthy or recover from illnesses, and keep our families fed. This is a simple one, but a thank you card with your sincerest gratitude can go such a long way. Additionally, there are many grocery stores that sell affordable, and beautiful, stationery. This is surely one of the safest, simplest, and most effective ways of giving back in the pandemic. Can you imagine how your Instacart delivery driver might respond if you gave him or her a thank you card?
Another current effort we have in the works with JLA is asking our members to write “thinking of you” cards to residents at a local nursing home. We were given the guidance by this community partner to steer clear of messages that related to how awful Covid (it makes all of us upset, right!?) – but rather, to focus on uplifting messages such as: “you don’t know me, but I am writing to encourage you” or, “I’m your neighbor, Laura! I frequently pass your building while driving, and I am thinking about you and your community and hoping that you stay in good cheer!” We’ve also had another community partner request cards for their teenage clients to include well wishes – and knock knock jokes.
- Meal Delivery
Recently, a JLA member reached out to me to ask for information about a community partner that might benefit from a meal contribution. The first community partner that came to mind is a bereavement organization that supports children that are grieving the loss of a parent, grandparent, or sibling. These are difficult times regardless, but the holidays can of course be so very painful for anyone who has just experienced the loss of a loved one. Our JLA member was thinking generously about how to help keep a local restaurant in business by purchasing a few extra meals for small families in need, and I am so very grateful to her. Certainly, if you know a family who has been facing such a loss, this is a wonderful way to give back.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for a way to make a different kind of impact in a similar way, you might consider supporting an organization that prepares and distributes meals to senior citizens or home-bound members of your community. The need for these services, and for volunteers to support them, is greater than ever.
- Hygiene Kit Preparation
Toiletry items, especially full-sized and unused toiletry items, are always needed by shelters that support clients who are experiencing homelessness. This is another meaningful way to demonstrate to members of your community that you are thinking of them and hoping that they stay safe in a very challenging time. Full-sized toiletry items are significant to offer to organizations that provide these services at times, because the smaller sizes may sometimes remind clients who have survived homelessness, domestic violence, and/or human trafficking of a time when they were forced to rely on a hotel stay instead of being able to depend on stable and safe housing. This is another project that is relatively simple to complete, especially if the grocery store is on the short list of places you visit outside of your home.
- Donating Blood
(Of course, this one doesn’t include the kids!) If you are feeling healthy and well, and feel up for giving back in this way, you can find a blood drive through the American Red Cross here: https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive. Alternatively, if you know of a local organization in your community that collects blood donations, please search their individual sites for blood drive opportunities. I know from firsthand that these donations are always critically important to sustain a consistent blood supply to local hospitals. I received a blood transfusion after my first daughter was born, and my own Mom had a health condition that required her to regularly receive blood donations on a weekly or biweekly basis. Life somehow goes on despite the pandemic and blood donations are always needed. Additionally, if you have recently fully recovered from Covid, please give this idea extra consideration. If you still have antibodies in your blood, you may be able to help someone fighting for their life due to the virus through a Convalescent Plasma Donation.
- Direct Volunteer Service
If you’re looking for ways to connect with a local service organization in order to find direct volunteer opportunities, there are a few organizations that come to mind. Of course, I must mention the Association of Junior Leagues, International – I’m proud of the work that we have done, and continue to do, in this critical time. You can find a local League here: https://www.ajli.org/?nd=p-find-a-league. A few other national organizations that can assist you in getting plugged into your community include The Points of Light Global Network (https://www.pointsoflight.org/global-network/), VolunteerMatch (https://www.volunteermatch.org/), or your local United Way (https://www.unitedway.org/get-involved/volunteer).