If there’s one thing that’s worth spreading this holiday season, it’s the spirit of giving. At the forefront of doing good deeds are Oklahoma’s nonprofits and other charitable organizations, many of which are spearheading festivities that address their communities’ greatest needs.

No matter the cause, these places depend upon the support of others to bring their programs to life. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the demand for volunteers and contributions to aid those struggling.

“The pandemic has not been easy on families,” says Krista Hemme, chief marketing officer at the Tulsa Area United Way. “It’s caused a lot of stress from lost income from instability at jobs.”

However, there are multiple ways to lend a helping hand this year. Working alongside its 59 partner agencies, TAUW is hoping to inspire Oklahomans to take action by launching a seasonal webpage: tauw.org/winter-holiday-volunteer-opportunities.

Hemme describes it as a “one-stop-shop,” where people can learn about the numerous ways to get involved. 

“Even just having a festive meal that a family would otherwise not have can really make a big difference during the holidays,” she says.

LIFE Senior Services is another nonprofit that’s making the season a special time through its Holiday Project, which will provide 600 gifts to members of ADvantage Case Management, LIFE PACE, and Adult Day Health Centers. To pull it off, the nonprofit is looking for volunteers to wrap and deliver gifts and assist with administrative work.

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“This is a busy time of the year for volunteerism,” says Heidi Braver, volunteer manager at LIFE. “We definitely see an increase of individuals who want to ensure that our participants have a wonderful holiday season.”

With that same goal in mind, the Salvation Army is spreading cheer through its Red Kettle and Angel Trees campaigns. These Christmas programs require hundreds of volunteers to help raise funds, run registration booths, and organize and distribute donated gifts.  

Both programs have rich histories that illustrate the Salvation Army’s commitment to do good. The Red Kettles date back to 1891, when Capt. Joseph McFee helped feed the hungry by asking citizens of San Francisco to place donations in a crab pot with a sign that read ‘Fill the pot for the poor – free dinner on Christmas Day.’

Capt. Charles and Shirley White conceived the Angel Tree program in a shopping mall in Lynchburg, Va., in 1979. Since then, it has become a staple of the Salvation Army’s annual programming. In 2020, the Tulsa Area Command distributed 50,650 gifts and 2,797 holiday food boxes throughout the community.

“It’s a large-scale operation,” says Wayde Normandin, volunteer and disaster resource manager at Tulsa’s Salvation Army. “We rely on our volunteers … to make Christmas special for people.”

For those who may have less time to spare, there are several organizations requesting drop-off donations, such as Family & Children’s Services, the Tulsa Day Center, Rescue City Mission and the OKC Homeless Alliance. The requested items help cover the basic needs of people served, along with providing gifts and holiday baskets to children and families.

During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, volunteering can serve as a reminder of what’s most important: family, friends and our communities. 

“It’s really all-hands-on-deck for all of us,” says Normandin. “It’s a wonderful time and a beautiful opportunity for folks to give back during the Christmas season.”

Oklahomans Give Back

Although the holidays will come to pass, the need for volunteers extends throughout the year. According to a report from the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, Oklahomans provided over 94 million hours of community service in 2020, totaling an estimated value of $2.2 billion in labor.
To promote volunteerism, many of the state’s nonprofits participate in the United Way’s Day of Caring, an annual event that sources volunteers from companies and organizations within the community. Last year was the 30th anniversary for the Tulsa program, and over 2,400 people from 80 different organizations participated.
“We have groups of employees from different companies that go into the community and help our nonprofit agencies by doing service work, whether it’s sprucing up the landscaping or building benches and picnic tables for schools,” says Hemme. “It’s a remarkable turnout.”
The United Way of Central Oklahoma and the Tulsa Area United Way work to provide a social safety net to their partner agencies by funding 10 to 20% of their annual budgets. To raise funds, the United Way holds workplace campaigns and special events every year.
Similarly, the Salvation Army closes the gap for those in need through its wide range of programming and community-based services. In September, members of the Tulsa Area Command traveled to Louisiana to provide disaster relief to survivors of Hurricane Ida.
“Our staging area was in Gonzalez, Louisiana,” says Normandin. “[We would] set up and pass out water and hot food and breakfast boxes.”
For two weeks, the Salvation Army distributed approximately 800 meals every day. The organization offers training for its disaster services at its multiple locations throughout the year as a starting point for people to get involved.
Normandin says volunteering is a way to contribute something “bigger than ourselves.” Individuals who are interested in making a difference can reach out to their local nonprofits and charitable organizations to find current volunteer opportunities.