– There are hundreds of ways you can volunteer during the season and all year. –
By Jared Fiel
Ariel Maes still remembers the young lady and her grandmother who volunteered to help wrap presents for Santa Cops of Weld County where Maes is president.
“They stayed for the entire six hours,” she says. “They were the only ones that stayed the whole time. At the end, I thanked them for all the hard work and the young woman told me that when she was little she moved to Greeley with her grandma and little brother around Christmas. They had absolutely nothing when they came here, and there was no money for Christmas presents. She then told me that Santa Cops brought gifts for her and her brother. They had wanted to find a way to give back and help others.”
The holidays are known as the season of giving, and nonprofits in Northern Colorado are ready to receive. The United Way offices in Larimer and Weld counties have lists of volunteer needs in the communities (see sidebar). That’s a good place to start, but there are always ways to help.
“Weld County is a group of caring people who understand the need right now with the economy and prices, whatever it may be. People always ask, ‘How can I help?’ instead of pretending our community is perfect,” says Nicole Quinn, United Way of Weld County community engagement coordinator.
That need may be greater now more than ever. Kylie Hibshman, director of community engagement for United Way of Larimer County, added that many recurring volunteers for programs through the year have decreased since COVID-19.
“Our volunteer base is smaller than before by a lot, so we have lots of needs,” she says.
She adds that collection drives like United Way’s Warm Essentials program needs volunteers to help sort and distribute warm clothing on top of the need for donations.
Santa Cops of Weld County also often needs help with coordinating. Volunteer posts are listed on the group’s Facebook page for the organization that was founded in 1986 by Officer Dave Volpe of the Greeley Police Department. Santa Cops is dedicated to providing toys to children who would otherwise receive nothing at Christmas.
“Without the donations and volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to do this every year,” Maes says. “Thanks to this wonderful community, we are able to provide gifts to thousands of kids every single year.”
In Fort Collins, The Toy Shop, put on by Kenzi’s Causes, helps get toys to those in need. The organization was started by Jessica Bachus, who started the program in memory of her daughter, Kenzi, who was stillborn in 2007.
“As a way to heal from my grief, I started collecting dolls and giving them back to children in need in the community,” she says. “After two years, I started the nonprofit. We have Toy Shops across the state that provide new, free gifts to low-income children. Our goal is to impact 18,000 children across the state this year.” She added that 500 of those kids are in Fort Collins.
Bachus says her daughter would be proud. “I would give anything to have Kenzi back, but I know that isn’t possible, so I am doing the next best thing, changing the lives of children and families who need us most.”
Getting the younger generation to grow that giving spirit is vital to the program. “Seeing kids giving back to kids is something so special. We have kids in middle school and older volunteer at all of our locations and it is fun to see our volunteer kids get excited helping kids and families pick out their toys,” she says. “There is joy on both sides.”
One of the more traditional volunteer needs during the holidays is at the Salvation Army, which includes the Salvation Army Red Kettle and the Angel Tree. The Red Kettle, featuring the bellringers you’ve seen in front of stores, is the Army’s main fundraiser of the year.
“All donations stay in Weld County to help us to be able to help those in need throughout the year.,” says Tammie Schaeffer, administrative assistant.
The Salvation Army Angel Tree program helps give children in need a Christmas. Volunteers for this help put together food boxes and gather gifts. They also need assistance with preparation and serving at the Thanksgiving meal.
Charities looking for volunteers for programs in Northern Colorado know that during the holidays, there are often more people than opportunities, but they also need help outside of the season.
“Most people have a giving heart year-round, but come the holiday time, it gives us an opportunity to reflect, and people say, ‘I’m in a really good spot right now. And I would like to give back to my community in any way through volunteering or toy drives or whatever.’ So, there is always an uptick around the holidays because people have extra grateful hearts,” Quinn says.
While some of the recurring base is decreasing, it is people like Gail Potts of Greeley who make a real difference by volunteering two days a week for the last 18 months, cooking meals for the Salvation Army in Weld County.
“I feel so blessed by doing it,” she says. “This is one hot meal that they can get, and it means so much to them and so much to me.”
Potts says that she was impressed with how the clients at lunch were treated. “They greet everyone by name and have an air of respect for them that is so moving,” she says. “It’s not my job to judge anyone … just to feed them.”
Jared Fiel is a writer in Northern Colorado.