I'm not sure what it is about stuffed turkeys and pointy-eared elves that make people feel generous, but there's certainly something in the holiday air that makes us want to reach out to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. Especially during these troubled times, when the helpless and hopeless become increasingly visible, those of us who are blessed enough to be well-fed and well-loved every day often find ourselves digging into our wallets and our hearts as the days become shorter and colder.
Each person has his or her own reasons for donating time, money or gifts to charitable organizations, but the end result is the same: both the present and the future begin to look a bit brighter for those who could use a little more light in their lives.
Here are a few groups around our terrific town that are always honored to have a helping hand around the holidays . . . or any ol' day of the year, for that matter:
Big Brothers and Sisters of Oklahoma- 3015 E. Skelly Dr., Ste. 211/ 744-4400/ www.bigbrothers-tulsa.org
The local chapter of this influential group provides one-on-one adult companionship and mentoring for children of one-parent households. Volunteers are matched to children with whom they share common interests, and then the two can paint the town any color they like. Adults 18 and older may choose the program that best suits their needs. Share your magic with a kid!
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma- 1304 N. Kenosha/ 585-2800/ www.cfbeo.org
Our modest Food Bank does a mighty fine job, distributing food to 440 partner programs in Northeast Oklahoma that feed over 50,000 people every week. All of the food they distribute is donated by people living in Green Country. Volunteers may donate non-perishable food, money, time at the Food Bank or in-kind services.
Catholic Charities- 739 N. Denver/ 585-8167/ www.catholiccharitiestulsa.org
By pooling our community's resources, Catholic Charities aims to reach the Tulsans who are most in need. They offer pregnancy/adoption support, a clothing center, emergency aid, and they also operate a Hispanic Helping center, Madonna House (for women in crisis pregnancies), St. Elizabeth Lodge (for unwed mothers) and St. Joseph Residence (a hospice for victims of AIDS). You need not be Catholic to be helped or to help. There are volunteer opportunities in all of these areas, ranging from donations to office work to providing transportation.
Department of Human Services (DHS)- 444 S. Houston/ 581-2401/ www.okdhs.org
In Tulsa, DHS provides a multitude of services to Oklahomans of all ages and walks of life with the hopes of building stronger families and communities. They need volunteers for clerical duties, mentoring, tutoring and sharing special talents.
DHS also sponsors "Christmas for Kids," a toy drive for the 1700+ Tulsa County kids who are in the custody of DHS. For more information about choosing a child to "adopt" for Christmas for Kids, call Urban Tulsa Weekly at 592-5550 or bring your gifts to 710 S. Kenosha before Dec. 11.
Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS)- 4300 S. Harvard, Ste. 100/ 585-3163/ www.dvis.org
This group works to provide comprehensive prevention and intervention services for anyone affected by domestic violence. They have a 60-bed shelter that serves more than 1,000 people every year, and DVIS has also merged with Call Rape to combine the benefits of both organizations.
In addition to a Christmas "Adoption" donation program, interested volunteers may also go through crisis counseling training, sort donations, translate materials, transport or take advantage of other opportunities. A complete listing is available on the website.
Habitat for Humanity- 6235 E. 13th St./ 592-5411/ www.habitat-tulsa.org
This international superstar organization utilizes volunteer labor, materials and money to build homes at no profit and financed with 0% mortgages for needy families. By the end of this year, Tulsa's Habitat for Humanity will have completed over 150 homes in the area. People wishing to get involved may help with house construction, work in the woodshop, serve on a committee, assist with other various clerical jobs or donate money.
Hospice of Green Country- 2121 S. Columbia, Ste. 200/ 747-2773/ www.hospiceofgreencountry.org
A hospice is a haven for people who have decided to no longer seek a cure for their illnesses. They aim to make patients as comfortable and content as possible by surrounding them with compassion and making every moment count. Hospice volunteers may assist with physical activities, run errands or provide transportation, help with grief counseling or just be a friendly face. These opportunities are not specific to Hospice of Green Country. Check local listings for other area hospices, most of which will be happy to incorporate whatever skills you bring with you.
Iron Gate Homeless Feeding Ministry- 501 S. Cincinnati/ 582-4328 x117/ www.trinitytulsa.org/irongate
Every day of the week, these dedicated folks provide food in a friendly environment to over 350 people. They also deliver food to needy families without transportation. To help, send a donation to buy food or volunteer to serve meals at one of Iron Gate's locations around town.
John 3:16 Mission- 2027 N. Cincinnati/ 592-1186 and 506 N. Cheyenne/ 587-1186/ www.john316mission.org
This interdenominational Christian organization provides food, shelter, clothing and rehabilitation services to Tulsa's homeless and at-risk population. Apart from offering prayer, which the organization recognizes as a huge help, people can donate material goods, money, food, and shelter items. They may also serve meals or volunteer in the offices.
Meals on Wheels- 12620 E. 31st St./ 627-4103/ www.mealsonwheelstulsa.org
Bringing almost 1,000 hot and nutritious meals daily to elderly or disabled persons who are homebound, these helpers are always on the go. In addition to food, they also provide caring contact, friendship and security. This group is currently in serious need of volunteers, as they do not want to have to curtail their services. They need people to pack food and help in the kitchen, deliver meals and do various tasks in their office.
Regional AIDS Intercommunity Network (RAIN)- 221 S. Nogales/ 834-4195/ www.rainoklahoma.org
This interfaith program reaches out to patients and families living with AIDS. They offer assistance with medical management, housing, nutrition and counseling. Apart from monetary donations, people may offer services in the office, transportation, moral support, education programs or work on house projects as part of a RAIN team.
The Salvation Army- 601 N. Main/ 583-6119/ www.salvationarmytulsa.org
Most visible for their bell-ringing at public location during the holidays, volunteers for this group handle a multi-faceted core of services--from disaster relief, to daily feeding the hungry or teaching children. There are an abundance of volunteer opportunities available through the group. You can find a complete listing on their website. Other ways to help around the holidays include serving holiday meals, being a "bell-ringer" or donating money or gifts for the holidays Programs include the Neediest Family Campaign through the Tulsa World, which assists a chosen family that is currently facing catastrophic circumstances, and the Angel Tree, which allows shoppers to "adopt" someone in need of holiday cheer in the form of a gift. The Angel Tree operates in Woodland Hills Mall at 68th & Memorial.
Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless- 415 W. Archer/ 583-5588/ www.tulsadaycenter.org
Tulsa's only daytime shelter, this locale provides a safe & healthy environment that encourages participation in self-sufficiency. It also serves as a night shelter for the most at-risk homeless. Almost 500 people pass through the Day Center on any given day. Ages 15 and older may donate money, time at the shelter, personal items or clinical items. A list of ongoing needs and volunteer jobs may be viewed on the website.
As you can see, there's no shortage of do-good groups in our city who need volunteers. At DHS, Donna Hendrix, Volunteer Coordinator for Child Welfare Services in Tulsa County, says that volunteers are at the heart of the organization. While it certainly takes paid employees to effectively run the services that a group like DHS provides, she asserts, "It takes all of us to raise children. DHS can't be the only parent. We need resources from the entire community."
With that in mind, it becomes apparent that none of the organizations above, or those that space precluded us from listing, can operate to the fullest of their capacity without volunteers. Most of the groups who reach out to those in need in Tulsa are simply trying to meet their most basic needs.
As Hendrix says, "We're just trying to restore a sense of normalcy." Tulsa doesn't want its citizens to be hungry, in danger or left out in the cold.
Most of these charities operate on very little cash and whole lotta love from ordinary folks. Volunteers for these groups want to help out their community, and they don't expect anything in return. Well, maybe they like that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from helping those who are less fortunate, especially around the holidays. In fact, there are many additional benefits to volunteering.
You can learn and develop valuable skills, meet new people and network, gain work experience, learn to deal with difficult situations, build self-confidence and self-esteem, feel valued and needed, and perhaps most importantly, being a volunteer guarantees that you'll make a positive difference in someone's life.
So, whether it's around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Bastille Day in the middle of July, there's no excuse for not giving a little something back to the people of our beloved T-Town, the city that's nurtured us and made out hearts swell with pride and goodwill toward men (and women), not just during the holidays, but every day of the year.
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