In the year of 2011, the Red Cross raised nearly half a billion dollars in donations to repair and build homes for the Haitian individuals and families affected by the earthquake that ravaged their country. However, even with such ample funds, Red Cross’ achievements in their service were “dubious” at best. While the Red Cross had pledged to build homes for 130,000 people in Haiti with the money collected, only six homes were constructed, a number that doesn’t come close to covering the amount of damages and setbacks that the Haitian community faced; likewise, this small number does not correlate to the large amount of funds that the company received through donations. In communities such as Campeche, a city close to Haiti’s capital, many individuals continued to suffer in poor living conditions, dwelling in crumbling homes and using dilapidated facilities. As it turns out, the Red Cross had put a huge portion of their budget towards managing expenses, not building homes; a lot of money went to other groups with more experience in building homes, and Red Cross spent a lot of their budget on hiring more qualified staff members than their own. Their efforts were fruitless because of their lack of expertise in both building homes and understanding the Haitian culture; the language gaps made it difficult for the Red Cross workers to communicate with the Haitian citizens, delaying their progress tremendously.
Despite the fact that many organizations, such as the Red Cross, struggle to show actual results of their ambitious service goals, or the impacts of large amounts of donation money, many people continue to donate to these large organizations. However, because the Red Cross is vague about how their donation money is being used, many individuals aren’t sure how their donations are benefitting people. That’s why it’s far more rewarding to volunteer locally, where you can see the results of your hard work and dedicated service. When you volunteer within your community, you get to see how your compassionate endeavors are bettering the lives of those who are underserved. It’s a very personal experience, where you will meet people with wildly different backgrounds than you, and you will gain wisdom and develop a greater sense of empathy. In addition, rather than donating to a company who puts most of your money towards “managing expenses,” you are donating to a nonprofit who not only needs the money more than big “cash cow” organizations like the Red Cross, but will put your money towards good use.
Numerous nonprofits within the Triangle area have in-person volunteer opportunities where you can make a tangible difference in your community. Whether it’s sorting clothes at Note in the Pocket or working as kitchen staff at A Place in the Table, you can see the exact ways in which you are bettering people’s lives.
It may seem impossible to volunteer during the pandemic, as regulations have caused many nonprofits organizations to halt or decrease their amount of volunteer opportunities. But in actuality, there are many options available for you to safely volunteer that you can do, most of which from the comfort of your own home. Many teenagers are stepping up in their communities to help out wherever needed. Volunteers are needed now more than ever so if you feel unsafe volunteering in-person, consider one of the following options:
1. Connect with your local nursing home
Most nursing homes are not accepting visitors or volunteers at the moment, so a great way to engage with the elderly community is to write letters to your local nursing home, creating a pen pal. You could also set up phone calls or Zooms with the nursing home residents. This can facilitate relationships between you and the nursing home residents, who can benefit from the social interaction.
Erica Schwartz, a 16 year old from East Hills, N.Y., connected with the elderly through phone and video chats during the pandemic through a service called Big & Mini.
2. Donate/distribute food
The pandemic has caused many people to lose their jobs, which has led to food insecurity. Local food banks have received an influx of requests for food. This is a great opportunity for you to give back to your community by donating food to the local food banks or volunteering to deliver food to the elderly and immunocompromised.
If you are looking for an organization to support within Triangle Cares, you can donate or volunteer at Durham Community Food Pantry, Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, Interfaith Food Shuttle, and Urban Ministries of Wake County.
3. Become a virtual tutor
Last year, many schools shifted to a hybrid or virtual learning environment. This new learning environment caused multiple learning difficulties for a lot of students. These students continue to be behind in their classes as this new school year continues. You can volunteer some of your free time to help these students expand their knowledge and increase their grades.
Sehajpreet Singh, a 17 year old from Bellerose Manor, Queens, started a tutoring program during the pandemic and donated a quarter of the profits to nonprofit organizations like the American Childhood Cancer Organization and Sense International India.
4. Create care packages for the homeless/donate to the homeless shelter
Due to the pandemic and major job cuts, there has been a rise in homelessness. You can contribute to your community by creating care packages for the homeless or donating to your local homeless shelter. Care packages can include basic necessities like deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a water bottle, snacks, wet wipes, bandages, and even a book for entertainment.
5. Support a frontline worker
During the pandemic, there has been a lot of stress put on frontline workers. Now is a great opportunity to support them and show your appreciation. You could do this by writing thank you cards or setting up a GoFundMe.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Cardinal Gibbons High School students wrote about 400 thank you cards to frontline workers, with notes of gratitude and inspiration.
6. Organize a clothing drive/donate clothes
As job rates decrease and money is low, people’s priority is on their food and housing, not their clothing. But clothing is important too. You could go donate your gently used clothes or create a clothing drive to help those in need.
If you are looking for an organization to support within Triangle Cares, you can donate or volunteer at Note in the Pocket.
Jordan Hannan and Jordan Lappin