When restaurants, retail stores, and beauty salons were forced to shut their doors in early 2020, another important sector was also required to close: nonprofits.
“Many charitable agencies have paid staff but rely heavily on volunteers,” says Sharon Klammer, director of the Fairfield County anti-poverty group Near & Far Aid (nearandfaraid.org). “They were all gone. Some wanted to come be on-site doing the work anyway, but the agencies had to say no for safety.”
And while the accessibility to volunteer work dwindled, the need in our state only increased. But the nonprofit industry is not one to take things lying down, and it has since bounced back with smart ways to serve, safely. “One of the silver linings for nonprofits is that the pandemic has really demanded innovation,” says Mike Rosen, chief revenue and business development officer for Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (fccfoundation.org). “This sector has stepped up in an inspiring way.”
So, as you think about ways to help your neighbor this holiday season, take advantage of the virtual and remote opportunities put forth by our state’s charitable sector.
Offer your skills
Whatever you do in your professional life, chances are you can apply those skills to help an organization in need this season. FCCF and Near & Far Aid have teamed up to help Connecticut organizations get set up with Catchafire, a virtual platform that connects skill-based volunteers with nonprofits to complete mission-critical projects.
“It’s very user friendly,” says Danielle Marchione, manager of FCCF’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence. “Register as a volunteer and then search by skills you have to offer, a cause you care about, or opportunities near you.” For example, an accountant can lead a training session in finance, graphic designers can create brochures, and web developers can assist with website creation. At Open Door Shelter in Norwalk, staff is always looking for financial and employment coaches to help people get on their feet through its new Financial Opportunity Center.
Organize a food drive
“Food pantries are crying for volunteers at this point,” Klammer says. “There has been a stunning need in Fairfield County that people don’t realize for food and security.” But before you coordinate a food drive with your neighbors, church or local school — be sure to connect with your local food pantry about specific needs. For example, sorters play a huge role in packaging food so that it can be given to the community in an organized way. With these positions in short supply, you’ll want to make sure your offerings are already arranged in a way that can serve those in need.
“The food pantries know their clientele very well,” Klammer adds. “It all has to be bundled and packaged, and that can all be done off-site, prepared and brought to the pantries.”
For example, Person-to-Person in Darien, which provides food, clothing and emergency financial assistance to 25,000 residents primarily in Stamford and Norwalk, is currently in need of home-delivery drivers and grocery pre-packers. Ask about how you can help remotely.
Have a virtual fundraiser
It goes without saying that financial need is more pressing than ever. Stage a fundraiser in your community by running a virtual 5K or hosting a Zoom benefit with your neighbors. GoFundMe and Facebook fundraisers are a great way to organize donations, or you can connect with a nonprofit in your area to streamline funds.
Community foundations can help you determine what causes near you have the most dire need. “We at community foundations can help connect someone based on their personal interest to best-in-class nonprofits, who will put those dollars to the greatest use, and who has the greatest need,” Rosen adds.
You can also stage peer-to-peer fundraising through these organizations, like with FCCF’s Giving Day on Feb. 25. “We see things like Catchafire and Giving Day as democratizing philanthropy,” Marchione says. “The minimum donation is $10 and those dollars add up. Your skills and contributions are valuable.”
Become a tutor
There are many needs that don’t require specialized skills, Klammer says. For example, Mercy Learning Center of Bridgeport has an immediate need for high school level reading/writing and math tutors. The center provides basic literacy and life skills to women with low income, and tutoring can be done virtually.
If you’re not high risk and are open to some slightly more in-person work, you can opt for outdoor positions that require minimal contact. For example, many food pantries are in desperate need of delivery drivers.
Stratford’s Sterling House Community Center is one such organization, but it has other outdoor tasks as well. You can volunteer to work the Christmas tree sales lot or help with landscaping needs.