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Too late to volunteer, but many other ways to help homeless for Thanksgiving

Your time might be more appreciated at a homeless shelter later in the year. (KIRO Radio image)

A lot of people will be thinking about helping those in need this holiday season, but if you’re expecting to just show up at a local shelter or service provider on Thanksgiving, you’ll likely to be told “thanks, but no thanks.”

That’s because Thanksgiving is the most popular day of the year to volunteer.

Jeff Lilly with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission says all of their volunteer slots have long since been filled.

“We already have 150 plus volunteers at the different locations,” Lilly said. “But it’s that thing where you come back a week later and it drops to almost none. It’s that type of thing where the need is year-round, not just on Thanksgiving day. But we love it that so many people want to give back and are thinking about those in need.”

Lilley says there are plenty of volunteer opportunities out there, especially for families or groups that want to do something together during the holidays, or any other time.

“Grab some friends, or co-workers, or family members and say, ‘Hey, why don’t we go down later on in December or January or February and come out on an evening or weekend or weeknight– any of those things. And jump in to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to go out on a search and rescue van, jump in to serve a meal or tutor a kid.’ Anything like that is very, very helpful.”

Other ways to help

It’s not just serving up a hot meal. Lilley says another way you can help is clean out your closet, do a little shopping for the less fortunate, or simply make a donation.

“By donating things like jackets, hats, gloves, men’s jeans, khakis, blankets, canned foods, protein,” he said. “If you’re buying a turkey, buy an extra one and donate it to the mission or one of the local food banks. Those are the kinds of things that you’re still giving your time but then using that time to bring it down to our men’s shelter or one of our distribution centers. That’s almost as helpful.”

One thing that isn’t as helpful is giving money directly to panhandlers. Lilley says there’s a better way to help.

“A lot of people on the streets might be struggling with an addiction so some of those funds might not go to the right cause, but at the same time at this time of year it makes us all feel good if we do. We’re at that point where we say ‘The best thing to do is usually to give to an organization like the UGM but any of the many other service organization that are serving the homeless.”

Lilley says when you donate to an organization, your money can go toward things like counseling, addiction recovery, and job training, shoes, and clothes.

“It goes much further if you’re giving to an organization and then it goes to a lot of people and not just one individual.”

Lilley says with the homeless problem worse than ever, the biggest thing is not to be overwhelmed. Realize that everyone can make a difference.

“We have a little phrase where we just stop and say there are more people who care about those in need than there are people in need. That means we have them outnumbered. We as a community coming together can make a difference in other people’s lives, but we have to choose to do something. We have to choose to step forward.”

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