TUPELO – Perhaps it’s the tinkling of bells that jars the memory, but each year as the holidays approach people start talking about giving and getting, and they start noticing volunteers.
Northeast Mississippi is home to numerous nonprofit and community outreach organizations, most of which rely heavily on the efforts of non-employees.
Especially during the holidays, when need is great, these organizations are eager for helping hands.
Perhaps the most visible volunteers are The Salvation Army’s bell-ringers. Starting in mid-November, dozens of ringers are needed to staff kettles at locations in Tupelo, New Albany, Amory and surrounding areas.
According to Salvation Army staff, members of church youth groups as well as school and civic organizations are perfect prospects to don the Santa hats and ring the bells.
These groups provide organized, honest folks who are in close contact with one another.
“It’s also a good way to get service hours,” said Maj. Sue Dorman, the commanding officer for the Tupelo Salvation Army. The money the ringers collect goes directly to help the poor, like the dozens this year who found shelter at the Army’s lodge on Carnation Street, or those who ate one of the 57,000 hot meals the organization served.
Starting Monday the Army also will need volunteers to help with the Christmas Angel Tree at The Mall at Barnes Crossing. It doesn’t take any special skills, just a willingness to explain how things work.
Despite its own financial woes, last year the Army helped provide gifts for 2,000 kids ages 1-12, and officers remind everyone this year that adopting an angel – or three – counts as volunteerism.
Strength and skill
Every Saturday, volunteers from churches and civic organizations from throughout Lee County converge for the project called Helping Hands.
From 9 a.m. until noon, some 40 volunteers man the offices on South Church Street. They do everything from stacking clothes and canned food to processing applications and even a little counseling.
Four hundred clients might come through the office on any given Saturday, and regular staffers say that the numbers always go up around the holidays. Lately they’ve gotten some good help from school teachers and administrators.
“They have a natural way with folks, good people skills,” said volunteer Otis Tims. Diplomacy skills are needed in certain situations, but then so is good, old-fashioned brute strength.
Helping Hands often refers clients to other organizations, like the Family Resource Center, so social workers, counselors and medical personnel make great volunteers.
Much like Helping Hands, the American Red Cross needs volunteers year round. With only six staff members covering a 16-county chapter, volunteers make up more than 90 percent of the personnel the Red Cross deploys in disaster relief.
In 2008 the Northeast Mississippi chapter responded to at least one disaster every month. House fires demand a lot of the chapter’s attention, but so do hurricanes, floods and, as was the case this spring, tornados.
Medical personnel, law enforcement and military veterans make especially good volunteers for the Red Cross, folks who’ve had first-hand experience working in disaster areas and with the wounded and displaced.
Specialist James Threadgill first volunteered with the Northeast Mississippi chapter in 2008, when evacuees arrived in Tupelo fleeing Hurricane Gustav. The combat medic had just finished his second tour in Iraq and wanted to use his skills to make a difference in his hometown.
“For soldiers, helping people, assisting with communication and and the logistics of it all is just kind of ingrained in us,” he said. His training made him a great liaison between the local, governmental efforts and the Red Cross personnel.
One needn’t have Threadgill’s skill set to help. Throughout the year the Northeast Mississippi Red Cross chapter conducts free training sessions to prepare people to help in the wake of disasters.
Cooking and feeding, cleaning and plain, old listening are all skills that can be put to good use. Right now the Red Cross is gearing up for its biggest annual fundraiser, a jazz concert at the end of January in Tupelo.
Volunteers are needed to sell advertising and promote the event, as well as to set up, clean up and tear down the scenery.
Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information
– To inquire about volunteering with The Salvation Army, call (662) 842-9222.
– Helping Hands is based out of First United
Methodist Church Tupelo. Call 690-8100.
– Learn more about volunteering with the Northeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross by visiting www.nemsredcross.org or by calling 842-6101.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal