Volunteering for the holidays

By Erik Allgood

Although the holiday shopping season has officially begun, some may find it important to step back and reflect on the generosity that is the spirit of the season.

Students do not have to wait until they get home to act in the spirit of giving, however. Many different charitable groups exist on campus and need student help. The University has promoted student philanthropy with the I-Serve program, which was launched during the fall semester and is offered through the Office of Volunteer Programs.

“I am very picky as to which charities I volunteer,” said Christian Ponte, senior in Music. “Depending on what type of work is involved and whether or not I think it makes a difference in the big picture, I would be more than happy to volunteer my time.”

The Office of Volunteer Programs is also offering students a chance to volunteer through the annual Holiday Toy Drive.

Marli Bardell, senior in LAS, is a co-chair of the event. The group members hope to collect 1,000 toys this year to distribute to needy children in the community. Individuals who want to participate may drop off a new toy at the groups’ office in room 280 in the Illini Union before Dec. 11.

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“Helping coordinate this effort is important to me because there is so much need in the Champaign-Urbana community,” Bardell said. “If everyone pitches in we can help make a lot of children’s holiday season a little bit brighter.”

The event is also a competition for student organizations; groups that want to participate may contact the Office of Volunteer Programs and sign up for children to sponsor. Prizes will be awarded to the group that brings in the most donations, Bardell added.

There are also many off-campus opportunities for students to volunteer during the holidays. The Salvation Army has a location in Champaign that accepts student volunteers.

“I would be willing to work with the Salvation Army because they are reaching out to people with the most basic of needs,” Ponte said. “It is ultimately a massive undertaking but it is simple and direct.”

Melanie Hall, outreach coordinator for the Salvation Army, said that in addition to bell ringing, the organization also has its own twist on the holiday toy drive. Volunteers lay angel-shaped gift tags with children’s names written on them out on a table while interested people can pick up a tag and buy a gift for that child. The giver will then wrap the holiday present and deliver it with the tag to the child.

There is also an event where volunteers set up a section of a toy store with toys paid for by the Salvation Army. Volunteers then take parents to the store where they are able to pick up toys for their children, Hall added.

“We have had a lot of students help out with this program,” Hall said. “They are valuable to us and we really appreciate their time.”