Staff ed: Make time for charity this holiday season

Ah, the season of giving. As the Salvation Army Santa Claus rings a bell outside of the local shopping center, Washington University students hunker down to brace the impact of the upcoming finals week (or month). With all that studying, most students could use a break every now and then. Rather than do the usual guilt-inducing pursuits—Netflix binge-watching, aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, spending hours staring out the windows of Kayak’s Coffee—consider joining your fellow St. Louisans in the gift of giving.

The Washington University community service website touts that about 75 percent of students engage in some form of a service project. Whether this means a short-lived stint on the Burning Kumquat farm or an intensive hands-on experience in a St. Louis neighborhood, any time donated to the community through the form of service is a plus. Whether it feels like you’re having a direct impact or not, down the line all positivity has a way of finding someone.

You might be thinking, “But how do I find something to get involved with?” Well, aren’t you lucky, because the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement right here at Washington University pretty much does it all for you. Seriously, the Gephardt’s job is to help willing students like you get involved with organizations that need volunteers. The Gephardt website is chock-full of ways to get involved with its own programs—like Each One Teach One, a tutoring service for kindergarten through 12th grade students, or Hawthorn InvestiGirls, an academic enrichment experience at the Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls—as well ways to contact community partners, like STLVolunteer, a database of nonprofits within our surrounding area.

If you’re looking for a seasonally-appropriate-but-still-extremely-beneficial option, Washington University’s Campus Kitchen recovers otherwise wasted food and prepares meals for food-insecure residents of St. Louis. One in four St. Louis residents are food insecure, clearly showing the need for volunteers to do everything they can to help those in need. Shifts are available on weekends for the next couple weeks, and most are based just a hop, skip and a jump away from the South 40 at First Congregational Church. Campus Y is the largest student-run service organization on campus, and offers a wide variety of programs for varying interests. If you’re not so interested in cooking, and are more interested in a building filled with 400 cats, Campus Y’s Working so Animals Get Support program brings students to the Clowder House (the one with all the cats) and a local dog shelter. Animals get cold just like us, and shelters house those that would otherwise be left on the street. If you can’t donate your time, consider dropping off blankets, towels or other pet supplies.

For all you upperclassmen: Remember freshman year when your resident adviser made you sign up on the Washington University Student Group Organizer (WUGO), which you probably promptly forgot about? It’s got a brand new look, and is a whole lot easier to use. Organizations can be sorted by type—including by community service designation—easily connecting students with groups led by fellow students. If you’re not quite ready to commit to membership of a group, or you just have a random weekend free, WUGO has a way to sort events by date or type.

If none of those things suit your fancy, Washington University offers a U-Pass for MetroLink services free of charge to all students that can take you almost everywhere in St. Louis. However, if your project of choice is outside of that range, the Gephardt Institute also sponsors a transportation subsidy through Enterprise CarShare. As long as you can justify your usage of the car, the Gephardt Institute will foot the bill, and you can even make it a recurring reservation if you have any long-term commitment plans to a project.

Historically, about 34 percent of all charitable giving is done in the last three months of the year. As major community service organizations make a “push” for fundraising and volunteer opportunities around the end of the year, people start to feel the pressure of an impending New Year’s resolution, the holiday season philanthropic spirit or just let out pent-up guilt from the year before. While this is all well and good, and everyone should take time to donate time or resources to others if they have the means, community engagement doesn’t have to start with the lighting of the first candle on the menorah or when the last ornament is taken off of the tree. Opportunities to help the local community are available all year, and organizations may need your help even more in the other seasons.

Remember when you first started looking at colleges and found Washington University? As you carefully honed in on your unique special talents and gifts and accomplishments in your personal essay and Common Application resume, you probably noticed of all the expanded opportunities you would have to grow in college. In the bustle of everyday academic life, it’s easy to forget the privileges we’re afforded here at Wash. U.: We have a school that sponsors our interests, allows us to pursue personal projects and fosters the importance of leadership in willing students. So, if you have some time, consider giving back to the community that gives to us every day.