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The best gift you can give

Volunteers often serve meals at the holidays, but their efforts can include everything from helping non-profits file paperwork to spending time with someone. No task is too big or too little when it comes to helping others, according to Meg Walch, executive director of United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha & Pierce Counties.

Feeling charitable this holiday season?

Whether it's time or money you have to give, there are plenty of opportunities for Red Wing residents to help their fellow man.

"The biggest challenge is helping people understand volunteer opportunities exist in so many different ways and so many different places," said Meg Walch, executive director of United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha & Pierce Counties.

Creative ways

to volunteer

Don't assume you can't help or that it wouldn't be up your ally.

There are numerous ways to volunteer, said Kris Kvols, president of the Hope Coalition. The coalition is a local charity that provides services and shelter to victims of domestic violence, the homeless and those at-risk of homelessness, as well as children at risk.

"There's been some really sort of creative things that people have done that are wonderful," Kvols said.

Some volunteers have helped the charity's Kids Count program by mentoring children after school. Kids Count is an outreach program for abused children.

Businesses have adopted rooms at the Haven of Hope -- the local women's shelter -- and refurbished them.

Others have donated their skills, Kvols said. One woman volunteered to give facials to women at the Haven of Hope and a masseuse donated massages.

Evening Star Quilt Guild members, meanwhile, simply did what they love to do and donated their handiwork.

Kvols said some volunteers have helped with office work, filing copies and newsletters.

The need for volunteers has only grown in the past year, Kvols said, as more people have looked to the coalition for help.

Red Wing donates

If you're looking to help the hungry, the best bang for your buck may be the Red Wing Area Food Shelf, says food shelf organizer Bob Weir.

"Monetarily is really the best way to give," Weir said, because it gets its food for cheap prices from a wholesaler in Rochester that supplies area food shelves.

Food drives that provide canned goods are also helpful, Weir said.

The food shelf is located in the basement of First Lutheran Church, where the center receives free rent, which Weir said is critical to the charity's success.

The organization feeds about 250 families a week with about 2,000 pounds of food. Families are allowed to use the food shelf once a month.

Weir said he's seen demand for services rise steadily in the past year. He said demand is up about 8 or 9 percent. Contributions to the food shelf, meanwhile have kept pace.

"As far as donations the Red Wing area is outstanding," Weir said.

The bell rings for thee

Of course you've seen the Salvation Army bell ringers.

But you may not have known the change you throw in their kettles all goes for local programs and is one of the charity's biggest sources of revenue.

"Our bell ringing is our largest moneymaker to support our social services," said Nadine Holbert of the Red Wing Salvation Army.

With the money raised by bell ringers, the Salvation Army helps people struggling to pay their bills. For example, residents get help with their water and electric bills, rent and prescriptions. That loose change also helps them put fuel in their gas tank, Holbert said.

Whether they come from local public safety departments, service groups such Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis, volunteers do the bell ringing. In fact there are 144 local bell ringers, Holbert said.

"If it wasn't for our volunteers it would be very hard to do our bell ringing," Holbert said. She noted some communities have resorted to paying bell ringers, but Red Wing hasn't had to do so.

She said revenue from bell ringing is down this year, however, in large part because the Dec. 11 blizzard knocked out a couple prime-shopping days when bell ringers normally do well.

Resolve to get involved this year

If you're like a lot of people, you're hustling this week to cover your bases for the holidays, Walch said. Between buying presents, hanging lights, cooking dinner and traveling, you may not have much spare time.

But after the holidays you'll likely find you're less stressed, and Walch said that will still be a fine time to get involved in your community.

"It's a great New Year's resolution," Walch said.

For those looking how exactly to get involved, Walch noted the United Way puts a list of volunteer opportunities in the Republican Eagle. The latest listing will appear Dec. 29.

She also noted there is a similar list on the United Way's website: www. uw-gwp.org.

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