4 Ways Locals Can Give Back to Their Communities During the Holidays
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Community is at the heart of a union. Without the support of the local citizens and businesses, unions would struggle to thrive.
There’s no better time to show gratitude for that support than during the holidays. The holiday season presents unions with various opportunities to demonstrate their appreciation for all their communities do for them, thereby strengthening that connection even further.
And that’s what unions are all about — giving back. “Community service is the foundation of the labor movement,” writes Nicole Fuller, executive director at the Philadelphia Area Project on Occupational Safety and Health. “Unions have always led the way in offering a helping hand to our brothers and sisters and the community at large.”
The spirit of giving is going to be especially important this year. Because of the impacts of COVID-19, this holiday season may be particularly difficult for a lot of individuals and families who have struggled to cope with the ramifications of the pandemic.
Unions, while being mindful of keeping safe, can help bring joy by giving back to those in need in their communities. Here are some ideas for how to do that this holiday season.
Host a Toy Drive
The holidays can be a sad time of year for kids who don’t receive many presents. Community organizations, like unions, can bring joy to young ones by donating toys and other presents to those who might not otherwise receive any.
With a toy drive, gifts can be distributed in a number of different ways — even in a manner that provides safe social distancing for everyone.
The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, for example, coordinates a drive-thru food and toy distribution each year as a way to hand out donations. “It’s amazing to watch all these cars pick up their donation,” says Keith Maddox, executive secretary-treasurer of the San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council.
The Sacramento Central Labor Council, the International Association of Firefighters Local 522 and the California School Employees Association partner up each year to bring the toys they collect from their toy drives directly to children in need at local schools.
“To be able to see the joy of the holiday season through these children’s eyes is magical,” says Greg Larkins, AFL-CIO community services liaison for the United Way. “There isn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Coordinate a Food Drive
Millions of people go without special holiday meals as well as reliable food year-round.
Coordinating food drives to collect non-perishable items to stock the shelves at food pantries and donate to shelters or families is a good way for organizations to feed the hungry, especially during the holidays. This, too, is an activity that can be done in safe social distance.
Some unions, like the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) Local 152 in Somers Point, New Jersey, take food drives one step further by building food baskets out of donated goods and delivering them directly to those in need during the holidays.
Others, like the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW (RWDSU/UFCW) Local 338 in Hempstead, New York, collect turkeys that are then donated to local food pantries and charitable organizations.
“Many families in the communities that we live and work in rely on local charities and food pantries to make ends meet and we are proud to make these donations to help them have a wonderful Thanksgiving,” local president John R. Durso says.
Food donations will be particularly important this year, as food banks have been overwhelmed throughout the pandemic and are short on goods to distribute.
“Demand for food assistance is rising at an extraordinary rate, just as the nation’s food banks are being struck by shortages of both donated food and volunteer workers,” The New York Times’ Nicholas Kulish reported in April 2020.
Importantly, these organizations have had eight months to work out COVID-safe means of getting meals to families that lack food security. If your union decides to participate in a food drive, consider partnering with a local food bank that has community roots and safe procedures already in place.
Adopt a Family
A common charitable cause many unions participate in during the holiday season is an adopt-a-family program. By adopting families, unions can provide low-income families with food, clothing and gifts for the holidays.
There are a number of organizations that host these programs in local communities, so unions can seek them out or start their own.
For example in St. Joseph, Missouri, the local AFL-CIO Community Services agency organizes its own Adopt-A-Family Christmas Program, in which families in need can sign up to be adopted by union members. Since its inception, the program has served more than 84,000 people.
Organize a Fundraiser
Sometimes, what charitable organizations or struggling families need most is money. Organizing a fundraiser for a particular organization or family is a great way to give back to the community during the holiday season. With donated funds, they can ensure they get what they need.
Some fun ideas for fundraisers that union members may enjoy are:
- Having a photo contest for the best ugly sweater, the most impressively decorated tree or the best light decorations.
- Having an online holiday sale with baked goods, crafts, wreaths or any other homemade items.
- Conducting a text-to-donate campaign.
Once collected, the money can go directly to a local family, a food pantry, a food rescue organization, a Meals on Wheels program, or any other local or national nonprofit that the union members vote to support.
Six years ago, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 55 in Des Moines, Iowa, started its Helpful Elves program. In partnership with other groups, the program has donated between $60,000 and $70,000 to locals in need during the holidays.
“We feel like we’ve gotten good wages and benefits, and to be able to help someone else and step up is what we are here for,” says Rusty McCuen, assistant business manager at IBEW Local 55.
Through these and countless other efforts, unions are able to give back to their communities during the holiday season when the plights of those in need are spotlit against the backdrop of the holidays. It’s a time for unions to show appreciation for what their communities do for them all year long.
“If we all do good, we all do good,” McCuen says. “That’s just the ideals of the union. Why not help people?”
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