Tips for giving back during the holidays and beyond

CLEVELAND - Chris Richardt manages construction projects for a living. But the job he loves most, he doesn't get a paycheck for.

Richardt's hobby is volunteering. When he's not at the Cleveland Foodbank packing meat, you may see him sorting toys for Toys for Tots, or serving a meal to homeless men, or helping a senior citizen with her bingo game.

"It has changed my life," he said. "I enjoy it."

Richardt gets his volunteer assignments from HandsOn Northeast Ohio, an organization that coordinates volunteers and projects, then manages those projects.

Executive director Jeff Griffiths said there are more than 40 projects a month in Cuyahoga, Lake, and Lorain counties.

"Great communities have powerful, involved volunteers and families and invested citizens," he said.

Griffiths said there are six B's to effective holiday volunteering and giving.

1. Be organized: Plan ahead and do some research for the places that you want to support. Don't just show up or call the day before expecting to help. If you are going to give a donation, don't just give what you have, give what is most needed. For volunteering, consider central resources like HandsOn NEO to find out how to connect with projects.

2 . Be patient: Organizations often have limited staff and are doing their best to get back to everyone and connect you with ways to help.

3. Be a giver all year long : Agencies have less help in the spring and summer.

4. Be creative: Do something beyond the traditional meal service, like shoveling snow for a neighbor or visiting a senior in need. Donate blood.

5. Be realistic about what you can or cannot do and when you make a commitment, stick to it.

6. Be family-friendly/age-appropriate by including your family in appropriate ways to give back.

In addition to the website, HandsOn Northeast Ohio can be reached at 216-432-9390.

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