News: Season of Giving Back

Expand your gift list to serve the community

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Stephen Carter-Novotni


Maurice Mason, head chef at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen, works with many volunteers.



The holiday season is a feast for social services, yielding the most donations and volunteers they see all year.

It's still not enough to plug the gaping need that exists. The famine comes during the other 51 weeks.

"It just becomes more visible — the need during this time — but really stuff is needed year round," says William Lohr, volunteer manager at Peaslee Neighborhood Center.

Charitable volunteerism is good for your soul — and there's a lot that you can do besides just mailing a check.

Direct service work can deeply enrich the lives of both donors and recipients, according to Heline Ohren of the Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), which provides emergency shelter and hospitality to families.

She describes her first service experience with IHN, helping a family prepare a meal and eating dinner with them. At the end of the meal, Ohren asked if they needed anything else, and the family's 3-year old grabbed her pants leg and said, "I need you." Ohren sat down and read to her.

"She threw me a hook and I bit," Ohren says.

" It was one of most rewarding experiences one can have — helping children."

Trish Fries, development manager of Project Connect, which works to provide stability to needy students, says her organization has as many volunteers as it can handle for the holiday but still has material needs. At the top of the list are gift cards to shoe stores. She says poor children rarely see new shoes.

Volunteers can make a powerful impact by just being present, Fries says. One of Project Connect's clients, an "unaccompanied youth" with no parents in the picture, was matched with a sponsoring family for Christmas last year.

"They had dinner at Applebees, gave her gifts and really got to know her," Fries says. "Her sponsoring family commented that this sort of exchange is in the true spirit of Christmas, and they felt as though they really made a difference in this girl's life."

Here are some ways you can make a difference:

´ Churches Active in Northside seeks new toys for children this Christmas through its Secret Angel program. New children's outerwear, bed sheets, dishes and cookware are also needed. Gift wrapping supplies and financial contributions are always welcome. Call 513-591-2246 to help.

´ The Cincinnati Interfaith Worker Center educates and organizes to help everyone receive a living wage. The Center focuses on low wage workers, day laborers and economic justice for immigrants. There are a wide number of volunteer opportunities available, including outreach, education and office help. Call 513-621-5991.

´ Providing homeless families with emergency shelter is the focus of IHN. The network needs volunteers to take meals to shelter families Dec. 23 and 24. It's preferred that volunteers spend some time with the families, answering any questions they might have about preparing turkey or other parts of the meal. New or gently used clothing items are sought, including coats, sweaters, mittens and gloves. There's also a need for linens, sleepwear, toys and books. Call 513-471-1100 to help.

´ Lighthouse Youth Services' Happy Holidays Project collects and distributes gifts to youth. Donors may choose to serve a particular family or child, purchase gifts from a wish list or donate cash. Call 513-487-7113 for more information.

´ Our Daily Bread provides meals, warmth and community to needy men, women and families in Over-the-Rhine. Volunteers will be needed beginning in January. Volunteers, asked to commit to four hours a month, are support staff at the soup kitchen and daytime shelter. Items needed include sugar, coffee, creamer, tea bags and napkins. Used clothing isn't accepted, so there's a need for new hats, socks, scarves and gloves. Call 513-621-6364.

´ The Over the Rhine/Walnut Hills Kitchen and Walnut Hills Pantry needs volunteers to help with preparing and delivering meals and is collecting items for infants and toddlers. There are also ongoing needs for cleaning supplies, personal hygiene and non-perishable foods. The pantry is still looking for food and assistance for meals the week before Christmas. Call 513-961-1983, ext. 2, for more information.

´ The Peaslee Neighborhood Center offers a variety of educational, artistic and cultural enrichment programs for children and adults, including photography classes, sustainable-living education and more. It's also the home of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center. The center has many opportunities for 2008. Volunteers can help students prepare to plant, sow seeds and harvest a vegetable garden as part of a new curriculum, the Edible Schoolyard. The center needs help with property maintenance and cleaning all year. Donations of diapers and baby wipes are always needed. Call 513-621-5514 to help.

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