Family in Town for the Holidays? Why Not Volunteer Together?

A house full of visiting family can get hectic and noisy, particularly if kids are visiting and have extra energy from being stuck inside. The solution? Round the whole group up, and perform a volunteer project together. Shelters need extra help during the holiday season, particularly with the current recession. Kids can often volunteer as long as an adult supervises, and it’s a great way to tire them out and get rid of their cabin fever.

Here are some suggestions for possible family service projects:

Build Something

Projects involving construction of something like a shed, dog run, or fence often get put off at animal shelters because the regular group of volunteers is needed for tasks that can’t be delayed, like feeding animals and scooping poop. If you’ve got a big group fired up to help a shelter tackle a major project, consider calling around to see if any local animal rescue organizations need some help with construction projects. A large group that can dedicate a couple of days to this type of project can be a godsend for shelters, which are usually struggling to get everything done with not quite enough volunteers.

Horse rescues in particular tend to be in need of this type of help, since horses tend to cause fences and shelters to need regular repair. If you don’t know of a local horse rescue, just use Google or Petfinder to look for one. Other large animal and farm animal rescues also are likely to need help building things. Just make sure at least a couple people in your group have done a similar project previously and have some skill in the area. Everyone has an uncle who doubles as a handyman, right?

Clean Something

Shelter buildings and grounds take a beating. Between constant visitors, animal messes, and general grime, there’s always more dirt than there are volunteers to clean it up. If you want to make a big difference in a local shelter’s appearance, call and explain that you’ve got a big group looking to do a holiday service project, and you’d like to take on any cleaning, repainting, and other miscellaneous beautification projects that are needed.

The nice thing about giving a shelter building a deep cleaning is that there are tasks everyone in the family can do. Even small children can wash windows, older people or people with physical impairments might be able to help file papers that have been piling up, and adult sweep, mop, scrub, paint, sand, and so on and so forth.

Make the Pets More Adoptable

I admit it: I saved the most fun one for last, because the mundane tasks that don’t involve direct animal contact need to be done, too. But if your family wants to work directly with pets available for adoption, consider helping to give them a better chance of finding homes for the holidays.

Who takes the photos at family gatherings? There’s someone in every family who loves photography. Enlist that person and their camera to take new photos of the adoptable pets, showing them at their best, to be posted on websites like Petfinder or for flyers at pet stores. Busy shelters often either don’t have current photos of available pets, or have hasty snapshots that don’t capture potential adopters’ attention.

Before the family photographer does his or her part, get together to set up a nice backdrop and to make the pets more presentable. If you have extra cash as well as time, consider taking a few needy dogs or cats to a professional groomer for a bath and haircut. Small dogs in rescue are often matted or badly in need of a trim. If the shelter has bathing facilities, bathe the dirtiest dogs. Give each pet at least a quick once-over with a brush.

Consider buying a few props, like reindeer antlers or belled holiday collars, for your photo shoot.

When you’re all done, present the shelter with the photos on a CD or USB drive (make sure someone knows how to extract them!) or, if they’re willing to give you the necessary information, upload them to the shelter’s website yourself.

Final Note: If none of these ideas sound quite right, just ask what your favorite organization needs, and how you could help!

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