Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

From animal shelters to disaster relief programs, there are numerous nonprofits in Virginia.

As the season of thanks comes to a soft close and the season of giving commences, we wanted to highlight a handful of opportunities across the commonwealth that intersect both paths. And what better day to do that than Giving Tuesday?

What started in 2012 as a simple idea—a day that encourages people to do good—has grown exponentially over the past decade. Now, Giving Tuesday is “an independent nonprofit and a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity,” according to the organization’s website.

If you’re looking for a great way to honor the day, here are a few ideas for you to consider. 

Your Local Refugee Support Network

If you were facing persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, would you leave your hometown and everything in it for a chance at a better life for you and your family? That’s the reality many refugees face. 

Oftentimes, fleeing the threat or realized persecution comes at a cost. Beyond leaving friends—and sometimes even family members—behind, refugees sometimes face language barriers, cultural differences, financial difficulties, and more that can accompany a move. 

Nonprofit organizations like International Neighbors in Charlottesville assist in a variety of aspects to help refugees adjust to life in America. International Neighbors focuses on four essential areas—home, health, community, and career—with a mission to equip refugee neighbors with a network and skills needed to move from “surviving to thriving” in Charlottesville.

Beyond monetary donations, there are a multitude of volunteer opportunities at International Neighbors. Interested individuals can serve as Great Neighbor Guides who provide friendship and guidance, become a Food Pantry Liaison and help individuals access meals, provide support on the administrative side, and more. 

Your Local Animal Shelter

In Virginia alone, more than 114,000 animals entered shelters in or around 2021—the data came from shelters’ most recent reporting, according to nonprofit organization Best Friends.  

The same year, there were 8.1 million people living in Virginia. That meant that for every dog, cat, or other little critter in a Virginia shelter, there were—theoretically—71 potential adopters. 

At the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA, you can find dozens of instant pals at any given time. Serving nearly 1,600 area cats and dogs in 2021 alone, the local SPCA helped place more than 1,200 pets directly in homes and also worked with transfer programs both within and outside of the commonwealth to rehome others. 

In addition to monetary donations, the nonprofit organization also has other opportunities for those who want to help. If you’re an online shopper, the local shelter has both a shelter wishlist through AmazonSmile and a Chewy wishlist, and is a Bissell Pet Foundation partner. The Martinsville-Henry County SPCA also regularly accepts newspapers, blankets, and cleaning supplies. 

Not local to Martinsville? No problem! There are excellent animal shelters all over the commonwealth, and chances are there’s one in your neck of the woods. Through Petfinder, you can search for animal shelters and rescue groups by zip code.

Your Local Food Bank or Community Food Program

How often do you sit at work thinking about what to cook or pick up for dinner? You heard about that delicious burger, right? Or how about that new pizza place down the road? In America, multiple yummy options are available for any given taste at any given time. 

Sadly, picking and choosing their next meal isn’t the reality that many Virginians face—instead, some wonder where their next opportunity to get food will come from.

In 2018, Feeding America found that Virginia’s food insecurity rate was 9.9%, and that equated to more than 842,000 people—but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, a study by the Northwestern Institute for Policy found that the number of people experiencing hunger in Virginia increased to more than 22% in June 2020.

Thankfully, food banks and local feeding programs help fill the needs—and the stomachs—of Virginia communities. In Richmond, RVA Community Fridges stocks outdoor refrigerators with everything from canned goods to fresh produce, meats, desserts, and homemade meals. The program hosts 10 fridges in the area and has helped locals gain access to more than 5,000 meals to date. 

There are many food banks throughout the commonwealth. To find one near you, the Federation of Virginia Food Banks has an online Virginia Food Bank Locator featuring service opportunities all over the state. Simply contact the location of your choice to inquire about monetary donations, food donations, and volunteer services.

Your Local Warming Center or Homeless Shelter

Did you know there are nearly 5,800 Virginians living without a home this year? Individuals experiencing homelessness oftentimes lack a secure place to stay from night to night—and that’s where homeless shelters and winter warming centers come into the picture.

Individuals without proper shelter may choose to seek out safe locations to spend the night, especially during unfavorable weather-related instances like cold temperatures, snow, ice, and other outdoor ailments. Homeless Shelters Directory has a list of many emergency shelters, general homeless shelters, and transitional housing opportunities located throughout Virginia. 

The Warming Center of Martinsville and Henry County’s winter season is already in full swing. Serving around a dozen community members each week, the facility operates when temperatures are at or below 35 degrees or when inclement weather occurs. 

Along with a place to rest, guests receive a warm meal and personal care items as needed. Transportation to the Warming Center of Martinsville and Henry County is available free of charge at the Martinsville branch of the Blue Ridge Regional Library at 6:30 p.m.

In addition to monetary donations, many warming centers and homeless shelters have volunteer opportunities. Oftentimes, these nonprofit offerings rely on individuals who can spend the night at the facility, folks who can provide a warm meal for dinner, or people who have blankets or clothing to give away. 

Your Local Assistance or Disaster Relief Program

It’s difficult to process an emergency at any time of the year, but all across the commonwealth groups are ready and willing to help. From God’s Pit Crew in Danville to Operation Blessing in Virginia Beach, there are numerous nonprofit organizations with individuals ready to stretch out their hands and roll up their sleeves. 

In Marion in the late 1980s, a group of churches and local organizations came together in an effort to help meet various needs in the community. Originally developed under the direction of local Rev. Harry Howe, Project Crossroads quickly grew to incorporate other churches in the mountainous region—and now, the nonprofit organization helps people in local neighborhoods and beyond.

By coordinating with the Holston Conference Disaster Response program, the Virginia group helped to collect and disperse relief supplies to individuals impacted by hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The relationship also sparked a partnership with local free clinics, which provide primary care to both the uninsured and working.

Closer to home, Project Crossroads helps make homes safe and accessible for low-income households, elderly individuals, and people experiencing disabilities and also provides firewood for families who qualify and depend on it for heat in the winter. The organization also sponsors a community Thanksgiving meal and provides a furniture ministry. 

Beyond monetary donations, if you’re interested in helping people by giving your time and talent, many assistance and disaster relief programs welcome volunteers.