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By Meaghan Alvarado

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma, we’ve witnessed the local community drawing closer together. The same can surely be said for the communities surrounding the victims of the California wildfires, Mexico’s earthquake, and the devastation experienced in Texas, and the Caribbean from the 2017 hurricane season. Catastrophic events have a way of bringing people together.

As we make our way into the holidays, the season of giving, let’s continue supporting our fellow citizens of the world, and specifically those in need locally, here in the Old City. This moment is a prime opportunity for parents to guide their children to be more giving and less selfish. Involving them at a young age will help to ingrain a desire to help others.

VELO FEST’S HEATHER NEVILLE DIRECTING A CREW OF VOLUNTEERS

Even the gift-wrapped packages you present to family and friends can make a difference. Many companies support a cause with the profits from your purchases. One major company that bases their whole brand on this premise is TOMS, the apparel company. It started out with them donating a pair of shoes to a child in need every time someone bought a pair for themselves. It’s since grown into a global phenomenon, and they’re now able to assist people to get eye surgery, prescription glasses, water, and so much more.

If you’re looking for a way to give back but are not sure where to begin or how to get started, look no further. This article will help you figure out how to donate to a charity, volunteer, or just take a small action — you never know what it can grow into.

1. DONATE

Charities are always in need of contributions whether it’s money, items, or gift cards. Non-profits require different forms of donations depending on their cause. Home Again St. Johns is a local charity that provides coordinated homeless services. They are in need of financial donations, but they accept gift cards that they can pass on to the homeless.

Many non-profits have obvious needs. Saving Animals from Euthanasia (S.A.F.E.) is always in need of dog and cat food, while Catholic Charities needs non-perishable food items for their food bank. When identifying an organization’s needs, the best place to start is consulting their website, social media pages, or by giving them a call. Cash is always a viable option, as then the organization can use the funds as they deem necessary.

RANDY ROSS (SECOND FROM RIGHT) RECEIVED HELP OF ALL KINDS DURING HIS EFFORTS TO
BRING AID TO THE AREAS AFFECTED BY THIS YEAR’S STRING OF DEVASTATING HURRICANES

 

2. VOLUNTEER

Many people see the holidays as a reminder to volunteer, they head out to the food bank, put in their hours and then don’t think about it again until the next holiday. Volunteers are needed throughout the year, however. Think about the causes you feel passionate about, and find an organization that supports it. If you lost a relative to cancer you could volunteer with Hospice. If you are passionate about education, consider Learn to Read St. Johns. If you have a love for animals, why not talk to the people at SAFE and see how they can utilize your assistance. There’s something out there for you, and there’s likely a local option.

Once you’ve decided on the cause, make a year-long commitment. Figure out how many hours you can donate each month and make a promise to yourself to volunteer ‘X’ hours each month for the next twelve. It’s literally the gift that keeps giving.

Consult stjohnsvolunteers.org to see current opportunities in our area, or visit volunteermatch.org to find local opportunities, as well as virtual volunteer options you can invest your time in from home.

3. START SOMEWHERE, NO MATTER HOW SMALL

If you’re unable to find an established organization that addresses your passions, don’t count yourself out. Heather Neville, Executive Director of VeloFest here in St. Augustine says, “If you feel a calling, just do it. If you can help just one, you have done more than abstaining.” Neville was driven to start VeloFest because of deaths and serious injuries from vehicles to bicyclists around her, specifically when her friend Bryan B. Wrigley was murdered while cycling on County Road 214 in 2011. She claims she continues because she knows too much, citing how “our area was the number one deadliest in the entire United States” for cyclists.

Randy Ross, the Orlando organizer of I-4 for Texas, I-4 for Florida, and I-4 for Puerto Rico reiterated the need to take a chance saying “Don’t seek permission to go and organize. You don’t need someone to say okay.” In his own endeavors, he believes that bureaucracy would have stalled his efforts.

Every cause has to start somewhere with someone. Owner and Executive Chef of Michael’s Tasting Room, Michael Lugo’s motivation to help Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricanes was inspired by the question, What have you done? He said, “We catch ourselves commenting on other peoples’ actions, but we have to hold ourselves accountable too. We all can do something, and no matter how small, it will lead to more.”

Ross too recognizes the ripple effect that attracts more people to get involved and says, “If you’re on the right side of something you don’t have to beg people to participate. We all want to be part of something good that helps our communities.”

Yes, it will likely be challenging in some ways. Ross now holds a lot of information in his brain that is useless to him outside of the cause. For example, how many pallets fit in a semi-truck or plane and the weight each pallet can handle. Neville too noted the required foundational knowledge you likely don’t have unless you’ve been involved with non-profits before. But these minute points are necessary, and you can find most of the information you need by a quick search on Google, or by asking people you know.

To make more people aware of your cause, social media seems to be the easiest way to broadcast your message, followed by general word of mouth. Ross said that over the three projects their various flyers were shared over 9,800 times on Facebook. Neville and Lugo also pointed to social media as a way to get the word out.

The current events we are facing today, in the form of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other incidents transpired by humanity, bring about a sense of very scary awe. “After we were flooded in Hurricane Matthew, it was helping others that helped us cope with the mental effects of these catastrophes,” said Lugo, “When Maria began its path toward my family, I knew what I had to do.” The way to get by is to help one another and unite as a community.

Visit the Velofest website for more information or to donate