By Brent Wakefield, President and CEO, Meals on Wheels San Diego County
This holiday season, charitable giving and volunteering will look a lot different, thanks to COVID-19. The need for volunteers and donations is greater than ever as millions more people than usual struggle amid the pandemic’s economic disruption.
Unfortunately, many who usually volunteer around the holidays may be unsure about doing so this year, given the risk of contracting coronavirus, and the fact that their usual volunteering traditions through school, houses of worship or other organizations might be disrupted. On top of that, scammers will emerge as they usually do this time of year to take advantage of well-meaning San Diegans.
So, what’s a giving person to do? Thankfully, you can still safely give your time and money to charities this holiday season, as long as you keep the following tips in mind when donating to a cause or nonprofit organization: .
1. Do your research! There are a variety of online resources that provide free access to comprehensive reports about nonprofit organizations. Start by looking at the California Attorney General’s Registry of Charitable Trusts (www.oag.ca.gov/charities), the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org), Guidestar (www.guidestar.com) and Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org).
2. Ask questions. Real charities are able to tell you how they use their donations, what portion of your contribution will go directly to their services, and provide you with a 990 tax form. If they cannot give you this information, don’t give them your money.
3. Donate food and other items—but only give what charities ask for. Many charities, including shelters and food banks, have lists on their website of the types of clothing items, food, household goods, and other things they need for the people they serve.
If you are looking for new ways to volunteer this holiday season, here are some ideas:
1. Find out how an organization you’re interested in is taking COVID-19 precautions. Are they enforcing social distancing, mask-wearing and other precautions for in-person volunteers? The charity’s volunteer directors should be able to tell you what safety measures are in place.
2. Volunteer from home. Many organizations need virtual volunteers to tutor children, give language lessons to adults, and reach out to people in need, among many other tasks. This is a great way to give your time if you don’t feel comfortable leaving your home.
3. Check in on your neighbors. You don’t have to volunteer with a specific organization to give back to your community. Check in on your neighbors, especially if they’re elderly, disabled or immunocompromised. Offer to run errands for them or pick up their groceries, or even just lend a listening ear if you know they are lonely.
4. Volunteer as a delivery driver. If you want to take “checking on your neighbors” up a notch, volunteer with an organization like Meals on Wheels San Diego County as a delivery driver. Meals on Wheels provides more than just home-cooked, nutritious meals: volunteers provide services like light home repairs and pet food delivery—and they’re often the only person a client sees all day. This makes all the difference for seniors who are living alone and socially isolated.
This year, I hope that San Diegans with a giving spirit will consider giving time and money to help seniors in need, who need our help more than ever amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meals on Wheels San Diego County has seen an increase of nearly 50 percent in the number of older adults receiving home-delivered meals and other services since social distancing restrictions took effect. We need volunteers to meet this demand and to provide a critical link to more assistance for isolated seniors cut off from their family, friends and support systems.
No matter how you choose to give your time and money this holiday season, know that you can make a difference as long as you’re smart about your donations and stay safe while you volunteer.
Wakefield is the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels San Diego County, a nonprofit organization that supports the independence and well-being of seniors in need.