A Guide to Giving From a Former Domestic Violence Shelter Worker

A guide to givingWhen I used to work at a domestic violence shelter, there was little in this world that was more heartwarming than to see the members of the community reach out to try to provide a Christmas for those who were in undesirable situations. For some, though, there can be some questions about what can be expected of those hoping to help these families during the holidays, so here is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you:

Do:

  • Call your local domestic violence shelter and ask how you can help. Some offer Sub for Santa programs, where they can match you up with a family staying in the shelter and give you a list of the things they might want/need this holiday season.
  • Offer to purchase gift cards for the shelter or the women staying there. Gift cards are great to use for planning holiday parties, or can be used by the women to purchase gifts on their own to provide for their children. As wonderful as the Sub for Santa programs are, it can help the self esteem of a shelter resident to actually go to the store and be able to purchase the items herself.
  • If baking is more your speed, contact your local shelter and see if they can accept homemade goods. Sometimes due to allergies and safety reasons, some shelters can only accept store purchased food. Find out what works for them, and see where you can drop off treats to share to help boost the morale of those living there.
  • Call the shelter to see if they have a list of items they might need. Shelters often rely heavily on donations, and can run low on things like tampons, toilet paper, and diapers. At your next holiday party, request on the invitation that your guests bring one of these items to donate.

Don’t:

  • Request to be there when the kids open the presents that you purchased for the Sub for Santa. This was a frequent request, and understandably so—part of the joy of buying presents is seeing the happiness on the faces of those you purchased them for. As a parent, though, one can imagine how difficult it can be to know that your child wants or needs something, and you aren’t in a position to provide it for them. While these women are not technically providing the gifts, they are doing an incredibly brave and difficult thing by choosing to leave what was likely a more financially secure situation because of the abuse they would no longer endure. What greater gift could you offer them than their pride on Christmas morning?
  • Forget the dignity of the people you are donating to. The saying is, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but there is also the saying, “Don’t add insult to injury.” We would receive wrapped packages with requests that they be given to the residents, and the staff had to open them for safety reasons first. We would find partially used rolls of toilet paper, wrapped individually to be given as gifts. We would open boxes with an item of clothing inside, with food spilled on it that had not been laundered.
  • Overextend yourself with offers to volunteer. Spreading yourself too thin is an easy thing to do during the holidays, with all of the opportunities to do so that are presented. When an organization depends so heavily on volunteers, it can make the difference between an organized event being successful or stressful when a volunteer does not show up. It is wonderful if you can; but don’t pencil yourself in if you aren’t certain you can be there.

When in doubt, call and ask. And when you do, be pleasant to the person who answers the phone. It could easily be a new volunteer answering phones for the first time, and I can say from experience, little is more terrifying than answering a potential crisis call when you haven’t before. Thank you for caring to help; the world could use a lot more of that.

Keighty Brigman is terrible at crafting, throwing birthday parties, and making sure there isn’t food on her face. Allegedly, her four children manage to love her anyway. 

Tags: domestic violence, gifts, giving, shelter, sub for santa, women's shelter

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