Thank you, volunteers!

By Sue Moynagh

The holiday season is behind us now, and I think it would be a great time to recognize all those who volunteered their time and effort to help make these days special for those in need. There is something about the Thanksgiving and Christmas season that brings out the “spirit of giving” and makes people want to reach out to their neighbors, especially those who may not be as fortunate as they are.

A volunteer is defined as a person who freely chooses to help someone or offers services without coercion or pay. There are many reasons that a person volunteers, but usually it is a way to share and connect with those who may be going through tough times, a way to give thanks for the blessings that we often take for granted, or just a way to feel good about oneself. For many, it is to help in some way to make the world a better place. In any case, these generous people provide essential services to churches, agencies and organizations that sponsor events that benefit others. The “Toys for Tots” drive is one of many holiday events that emphasize the importance of volunteers.

Most people are familiar with “Toys for Tots.” This campaign to make Christmas special for children is sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps, who do an outstanding job every year. New toys and games are collected and distributed to those who register and qualify. I spoke to Anita Gallant from Oak Hill CDC who acts as a one-on-one liaison between the Marines and Worcester area agencies. She also oversees the registration and distribution of toys by local non- profit groups. About 25 to 30 such agencies participate in the program each year. Anita has been acting in this capacity for 12 years now and deserves a special thank you for her hard work.

Anita said that this year 1,224 families with 2,561 children were served this year with over 5,000 toys and games and even 5 pallets of puzzles. There’s a ton of hard work and organization needed to make this campaign work. Anita says, “Without the help of volunteers, it wouldn’t get done. I couldn’t possibly do it alone.” Toys have to be collected, sorted according to age and gender, and then bagged for individual families. It takes about a week to do this. On distribution day, runners are needed to get the bag identified with a number matching the recipient’s form. Not so easy when there are hundreds of bags!

This year, Oak Hill CDC used the Upsala Elder Apartments to store and give out the bags. Between December 15- 22, approximately 45 volunteers made it happen. Some worked for a few hours, and others came every day and worked for the full day. Most of the volunteers were individuals, some were families. Members of the Holy Cross Women’s Basketball team and students from North High School worked alongside community members. It was difficult work, but it was fun- and rewarding.

Of course, the “Toys for Tots” drive was not the only holiday event that required volunteer workers to make it successful. There were holiday baskets given out by agencies and churches, holiday parties for the kids, tree lighting ceremonies, “giving trees,” meals served and delivered to shut- ins, and a host more. Even NewYear’s Eve First Night celebration depends on volunteers to work at individual sites. But it isn’t over yet. The need for volunteers goes on throughout the year.

There are tons of volunteer opportunities and there is a job for every skill and interest. Churches, schools and non-profit agencies do not have sufficient funding to pay staff to do essential work, especially in these tough economic times. There are crime watches, nature programs, fundraisers, neighborhood cleanups and youth activities that can use a helping hand. Many organizations will provide training, if necessary. Any time given is appreciated- immensely! And once again, to all volunteers, thank you for all you do.

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