The Season of Giving: An Insider’s Guide

By Liz Shadbolt, Volunteer Coordinator


It’s that time of the year again! We’re all planning family meals, considering gifts to buy and receive, decorating and singing, enjoying time together, and reveling in the season. For many, this is also a time to think of those “less fortunate.” In our own abundance—of love, joy, and stuff—we start to think of those whose lives lack some of these and decide to do something about it. This is wonderful and definitely part of the spirit of the season! In this blog, I’d like to suggest some ideas and guidelines to make seasonal giving as effective as possible.

#1 ASK. Before starting a project or buying supplies or assuming the need, connect with the community you are giving to and ask about their needs. It may seem like a no-brainer that a group who works with kids needs toys or a food pantry needs canned sweet potatoes. But call, email, and ask. You may find that the children’s group needs baby care items or that the food pantry needs high-protein foods. By asking first, you could be the game-changer—providing for a real need where others have just assumed. Access our Winter Outreach needs here or email us at for details.

#2 PLAN AHEAD. Thinking about a group or family volunteer time during the holidays? Organizing a supply drive with your church, office, or school? First, see #1 for specific needs, then allow plenty of time for planning both for your folks and the organization you are working with. Remember that plugging into regular programming is almost always more helpful than planning a new event and that last-minute cancellations are really difficult for organizers. At Open Table Nashville, we run Resource Shelters on the 2nd and 4th Fridays all year round. We also have great groups who organize time to do special projects throughout the year—but either way, planning ahead is the key to success.

#3 CONNECT. Be sure you are subscribed to newsletters or following the groups you support on Facebook or other social media. This allows you to see the ongoing work, needs, etc. So many of our supporters and volunteers know that winter is our critical time and we get amazing responses each year as we post needs, ask for volunteers, and put together winter outreach teams. You can be added to our newsletter with this link and connect with us on Facebook here.

#4 THINK YEAR-LONG. Be sure to take a little of the holiday cheer you are feeling and tuck it away for another season. For us, winter is the hardest season. We always need extra hands for canvassing, extra meals for emergency shelters, and extra love and support for our staff. Other organizations face bigger hurdles during the summer or on school breaks. Go back to #1 and be ready to put a specific holiday project you might think of on hold for a different, more urgent time of the year depending on input from the organizations you are supporting.

One of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes is, I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” This speaks to the deep need we all have to connect with each other, to life each other up, and to be of help and service to our community. I gain so much joy in seeing our volunteers and donors in action—watching the love with which they serve and seeing the difference they make in the lives of our friends experiencing homelessness.

Since we’re talking about giving, here are a few additional ways you can support the work of Open Table Nashville: