Janet Katz always makes it a point to greet people with a smile. It's one of the simplest ways to comfort frantic patients and their families as a volunteer at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
"Even if you have someone that comes in and can't speak English, you smile and you take them where they need to go. You see the relief on their faces. When a parent is relieved, a child is relieved. It's bad enough when your kid is sick."
Katz, 77, began volunteering at Scottish Rite when her granddaughter Erin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 9 months old. She celebrates her 20th year of volunteer work at Scottish Rite this month and says she loves every minute of it, even during the hectic holiday season.
"It's really wonderful. We could open ... I don't know how many gift shops with all the toys, all the presents people bring. It's phenomenal."
As wonderful as the holiday season is at Scottish Rite, Katz encourages volunteers to give back year-round.
"I want to say to the community, 'Don't forget us after the holidays. Remember that we need you all year long. Even if it's just for a couple of hours. Come and you will find that it gives you so much pleasure, such a wonderful, warm feeling inside yourself to help others, especially children. The kids need you. The parents need you. The hospital needs you.'"
1) Now more than ever, Habitat for Humanity could use some extra hands to help give deserving families homes for the holidays. The Georgia-based nonprofit celebrates its 25th anniversary this year by building its 1,000th and 1,001st homes. Construction culminates on Sat., Nov. 22, with a Building Block party for all involved, but the international organization always needs volunteers, monetary donations and sponsors for disaster-recovery homes. 800-422-4828, ext. 2979. www.habitatforhumanity.org.
2) Take a walk in St. Nick's boots and deliver warm meals to elderly Atlantans this Thanksgiving and Christmas. On Thurs., Nov. 27, and Wed., Dec. 24, the Atlanta Community Food Bank is partnering with Senior Citizens Services for Meals on Wheels Atlanta. Deliveries start at 9 a.m., with morning refreshments provided (though milk and cookies might be more appropriate). 404-605-8450. www.scsatl.org.
3) Deliver some joy to the world this month. Project Open Hand needs volunteers to drive vans, pack coolers and package meals for delivery to people living with symptomatic HIV/AIDS, homebound seniors and individuals with other critical illnesses or disabilities. 404-872-2707. www.projectopenhand.org.
4) Remember all those childhood hours you spent toiling over your wish list? Try a little role reversal this holiday season and play Santa to a precious pup or kitten. Cat litter, old bath towels and newspapers are just a few of the items on the Atlanta Humane Society's wish list, available online. If frolicking with furry creatures is more your style, the organization could always use help with pet therapy, kennel duties and administrative work. 404-875-5331. www.atlantahumane.org.
5) Hosea Feed the Hungry has been serving hot holiday meals to Atlanta's homeless and poor since 1971. Volunteers are needed to set up for the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Hosea Warehouse on Sat., Nov. 22, and then help with all-day Thanksgiving festivities at Turner Field on Thurs., Nov. 27. Helping hands are also needed for Christmas setup on Sat., Dec. 20, the Children's Christmas party on Mon., Dec. 22, and all-day Christmas festivities on Thurs., Dec. 25. 404-755-3353. www.hoseafeedthehungry.com.
6) In Atlanta, we dream of green Christmases. For $25 you can purchase a holiday tree greeting card for a friend or family member and Trees Atlanta will plant a tree in his or her honor. Want a more hands-on job? The organization plants trees every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon, even during the holidays! Take a break from hanging tinsel and buying presents to help build a local Winter Wonderland. 404-522-4097. www.treesatlanta.org.
7) The Salvation Army always needs help collecting money for its clanking red kettles. You can host your own red kettle on the Salvation Army website and invite friends and family to make donations. The org also seeks volunteers for meal-deliveries, disaster victims services, camping program for underprivileged youth and much more. 770-441-6200. www.salvationarmy-georgia.org.
8) It's no fun being sick during the holidays. Look out for tiny tots and sign up to volunteer at the Children's Christmas Parade in downtown Atlanta on Dec. 6. Busy on the sixth? Help kids feel like they're home for the holidays by volunteering at Egleston, Scottish Rite, or Hughes Spalding children's hospitals this season. 404-785-4483. www.choa.org.
9) Volunteers at Senior Citizens Services of Metropolitan Atlanta deliver nutritious meals, help with minor home repairs and provide emotional support to struggling seniors. Sign up for the Santa for Seniors holiday luncheon on Tues., Dec. 2. Any gifts brought to the luncheon will be distributed to seniors in need over the holidays. 404-605-8450 www.scsatl.org.