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This holiday season volunteerism is up. But the needs are still great.
Mary Smith, who manages the Greater Twin Cities United Way's Caring Connection, keeps tabs on volunteer opportunities within the coalition's network.
The needs are more pressing this year, which is in line with increasing homelessness in the suburbs. Food shelves are seeing more people, and adopt-a-family programs that provide gifts to needy families are also busier than they were last year.
At the same time, "we have seen greater response this year," she said, adding, "A lot of opportunities are booking faster than ever."
Still, many charities that serve the north metro area and beyond are still looking for volunteers for upcoming holiday events. Those volunteer gigs run the gamut from staffing temporary holiday "shops" to assembling care packages.
The committee is an all-volunteer group that provides holiday gifts and food to 1,300 needy families in northern Anoka County. About 200 volunteers help pull off the Dec. 19-20 gift-giving event each year, said Nancy Dvoracek, a longtime board member of the committee.
Before the two-day event starts, volunteers help sort donated toys, and food is packaged according to family size. "When a family comes in, it's all bagged and ready to go," she said.
During the distribution days, which take place at the Anoka Armory, volunteers help families "shop." "It's very busy but it's a lot of fun," said Dvoracek, who has been involved with the group since the 1980s.
When: Dec. 17-20 (setup Mon.-Tues., distribution Wed.-Thurs.), 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; volunteer shifts are flexible
Where: Anoka Armory, 408 E. Main St., Anoka
Info: www.christmas committee.com, 763-323-4982
SACA offers gifts and food to families in need on Dec. 17-18. This is the 37th year of its "shopping" event. SACA serves Columbia Heights, Fridley, Hilltop and Spring Lake Park.
For volunteers, duties range from putting labels on toys to setting up tables to shopping with clients, according to Shawn Johnson, a SACA employee. The organization relies on as many as 300 volunteers for the event each year.
While the holidays can be a tough time for many people, "To be able to give to people who have nothing, to give to the children," that's what it's about, he said. As people come through the shop, some of their stories come out. "It makes you come to tears," he said. The "thanks you get -- it makes everything worthwhile."
When: Dec. 17-20; Mon.-Tues. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wed. 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Thurs. 9 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.; volunteer shifts are flexible.
Where: SACA, 627 38th Av. NE., Columbia Heights
The Arc Greater Twin Cities, which provides services to people with various disabilities, hosts a holiday gift shop each year, which it calls Merry Thriftmas.
Kris Wolfe, supervisor of the Brooklyn Center store, said they need volunteer "elves" to unpack, tag and organize items. "Basically, they help out with tasks around the store," he said.
The store sells a mix of new and slightly used items including electronics, digital photo frames, books, holiday decorations and more. The inventory is constantly changing. Some customers come in several times a week. "A lot of people say they do all of their holiday shopping with us," he said.
In general, volunteers make up nearly 30 percent of the shop's workforce, according to volunteer coordinator Molly Lindblad.
When: Through Dec. 23, Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 9 a.m.-7 p.m., three-hour volunteer shifts
Where: The Arc's Value Village has several locations (see website)
CEAP serves more than 1,000 families at its annual Hope for the Holidays distribution event at the Brooklyn Park Armory on Dec. 18. The event gives low-income families a chance to go "shopping" for holiday gifts.
Clare Brumback, CEAP's director of development, said that within the Brooklyn Park Armory, "Everything is gridded out," and volunteers perform various duties that day. Some people might sweep, others might check out shoppers or greet them as they come in.
Although there's a lot of work to do, "Helping people shop for toys for kids is nothing but fun," she said.
When: Dec. 18, 7:45 a.m.-8:30 p.m. (shifts are two to four hours)
Where: Brooklyn Park Armory, 5500 85th Av. N., Brooklyn Park
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Santa Shop at Cornerstone in Bloomington, which serves domestic violence victims in Brooklyn Park, Bloomington, Richfield, Edina, Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park.
Since adding Brooklyn Park to its coverage area, the organization is expecting to see close to 500 children coming through the shop, according to Amy Kondziolka, Children, Youth, and Families Program manager.
Right now, Cornerstone needs people to host toy drives, stuff stockings and be an "elf" for the event. The day of the event, it's the clients' children who do the shopping. "It's about kids doing the shopping so they have something to give," she said.
When: The event runs Dec. 13-15: Thurs. 3-8 p.m., Fri. 3-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Where: Cornerstone, 1000 E. 80th St., Bloomington
Info: www.cornerstonemn. org, 952-884-0376 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The group needs sponsors for its "Gifts of Hope" program. Through the program, Keystone plans to provide toys and household items to up to 40 families, though many more could use this type of assistance, according to Margo Kemp Johnson, Keystone's director of community services.
Families come from Roseville, Little Canada, White Bear Lake and St. Paul. Clients are people involved in other Keystone programs throughout the year. As such, "We know them well. We know their stories and what's going on with them," she said.
Volunteers also help wrap hundreds of presents, a three-day affair, she said.
When: Wrapping Mon.-Wed. Dec. 17-19, times to be determined (two-hour shifts)
Where: Merriam Park Community Center, 2000 St. Anthony Av., St. Paul
Info: www.keystonecommunityservices.org, 651-645-0349
The organization serves clients through its "Sponsor a Family" program. Kristi Shepherd, project manager for "Sponsor a Family," said volunteers help in several ways: They greet and thank donors as they arrive to drop off their donations, assist in moving gifts from cars into the warehouse, and cross-check gift donations against client wish lists, she said.
When: Thurs. Dec. 6, 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (4-hour shifts)
Where: 2579 Territorial Road, St. Paul
Info: www.cctwincities.org, 612-204-8516
Bridging is looking for individuals or groups to sponsor low-income families over the holidays and beyond. This can take the form of putting together 25 kitchen packs, including new or gently used can openers, mixing spoons, spatulas and dishcloths. Executive Director Sara Sternberger said the kitchen packs have "had a lot of success because kids and families can do it" at home. "Everyone has a lot of stuff in kitchen drawers," she said.
When: Ongoing; Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: 1633 Terrace Drive, Roseville, and 201 W. 87th St., Bloomington
Info: www.bridging.org, 952-888-1105
The Salvation Army Twin Cities relies on thousands of volunteers each year. Many of the local holiday-related volunteer spots are already filled, according to spokesperson Annette Bauer. However, the organization still needs bell-ringers for some of its 400 metro area kettle sites.
"We're always looking for people to do that," she said. "People can do it with their family for a couple of hours."
The Salvation Army Twin Cities goal is to raise $9.8 million by the end of the year, and the bright red kettles play a major role.
When: Mon.-Sat. through Dec. 24, various times, two-hour minimum shifts.
Where: Various locations (see website or call the Salvation Army)
Info: salvationarmynorth.org (sign up online); iPhone users can download the Salvation Army's bell-ringing app; or 651-746-3519
The charity grants wishes to children fighting terminal or life-threatening conditions. It is planning a working social event at Joe Senser's Sports Theater on Dec. 18. In preparation for its annual winter ball on Feb. 23, 2013, volunteers will help with a bulk mailing, according to Joelle Nelson, a spokeswoman for the local charity. At the restaurant, "We get the back room and everyone can spread out and talk while they work," she said.
The charity needs volunteers with creative and administrative skills on a project-by-project basis, particularly "things that need to be done to gear up for the ball," she said.
When: Tues. Dec. 18, 6 p.m.
Where: Joe Senser's Sports Theater, 2350 Cleveland Av. N., Roseville
Tara Kumar, member services manager for the Metro Meals on Wheels, said that the organization welcomes handmade gifts for seniors. For example, families can make greeting cards, placemats, blankets or other gifts. A list of ideas is on the Meals on Wheels website. "Anything that lets clients know they're being thought of at this time of year," she said.
Also, Meals on Wheels always needs drivers. "We can connect people to their local Meals on Wheels sites," she said.
Where: Metro Meals on Wheels, 6441 110th Av. N., Champlin
Info: www.meals-on-wheels.com, 612-623-3363
This network helps seniors remain at home. It has a program called "Be a Santa to a senior," which enables people to donate holiday gifts to seniors.
Martha Ahlschlager, a client care coordinator at Home Instead's Blaine office, says that the names of 250 seniors and their wish lists are printed on ornaments hanging on Christmas trees throughout metro-area retail locations (listed on the website). Anyone can take an ornament and shop for seniors.
When: Ongoing through Dec. 12
Where: Various sites
Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.