Generosity is everywhere at this time of year.
It’s found in brightly wrapped packages, in warm meals and in the rattle of change dropped into The Salvation Army’s red kettles.
It’s in the voices of carolers who sing for those needing cheer and in the actions of volunteers who offer support to the homeless.
Acts of kindness are being performed at food pantries and animal shelters, at nursing homes and out on the streets. But they don’t only happen during the holidays. Area nonprofit agencies say they have been overwhelmed by the generosity the community has shown throughout 2013.
The monetary value of the volunteer hours donated at Bethesda House this year exceeds $500,000, said Executive Director Kimarie Sheppard.
The Schenectady-based homeless shelter is graced with many people who offer their time and talents to serve meals, perform office tasks and work with clients.
“The gift of time and compassion and passion from all of our volunteers is just incredible,” Sheppard said.
This year, hundreds of pounds of prepared frozen dinners were donated for the shelter’s daily meals; retired teachers stepped up to help with literacy programs; and community agencies organized successful food drives.
Despite the challenging economy, monetary donations increased 11 percent in 2013, Sheppard said.
“From all different levels, from young people all the way up, their hearts are big and they want to help,” she commented. “In every way, Bethesda House has just reaped the benefits of a generous community.”
Volunteers have been known to drive great distances to donate their time at Things of My Very Own Inc., an organization in Glenville that provides supportive services to abused, neglected, displaced and at-risk children.
“One woman has been driving 45 minutes three times a week to help out and she’s been donating eggs from her farm,” said CEO and founder Rayn Boncie.
The organization has been blessed this year with financial donations as well, not only from those who have money to spare but often from those who don’t.
“We had a client yesterday who had nothing for her five kids, and I mean nothing, nothing, nothing, and she came in and she was sobbing, knowing we were adopting her for the holidays, and she said, ‘This is what I made in tips at work. I want you to have it. I don’t know how I’ll make it without this money for food, but I want you to have it.’ ” Boncie recounted.
“We had a kid two weeks ago gave us 16 cents out of his piggy bank for helping his family because someone had told him we could buy things from the food bank for 16 cents a pound.”
Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Scotia has 200 volunteers who donate their time year-round.
“They are really so dedicated. They get there hail, sleet or snow. Some of them take buses because they don’t drive anymore,” said volunteer coordinator Lou Carol Comley.
The helpers visit with residents, run the center’s gift shop, provide transportation and put on programs.
“It’s just incredible. The compassion that they have for the residents is unbelievable,” Comley said. “They are wonderful role models. I wish everyone could see what they are doing.”
Thousands of dollars worth of toys were donated to the City Mission of Schenectady’s annual Christmas Toy Store this year — enough to put smiles on the faces of about 2,600 children, according to spokeswoman Elizabeth Chamberlain.
And year after year at holiday time, one couple donates gift cards for all of the men and women in the mission’s program, each complete with a personalized, handwritten note.
“It just brings these grown men and women to tears as they open their gifts and realize there’s people all over the place that they haven’t even met that care about them,” Chamberlain said.
The giving doesn’t stop after Christmas. All year long, volunteers do everything from one-time service projects to weekly shifts behind a reception desk at the City Mission. Donors also provide year-round financial support to help the mission meet its operating expenses.
“We couldn’t do it without the generosity of the community. We couldn’t make Christmas special. We couldn’t even provide the meals and the shelter,” Chamberlain said.
Over the past few years, more than 35,000 volunteers have stepped forward to assist the work of Schoharie Area Long Term Inc., an organization that provides disaster recovery services.
“Their willingness to continue to come and continue to help has meant that every dollar we’ve been given we’ve been able to leverage four to six times, so that the value of each dollar has been multiplied and multiplied and multiplied,” said Executive Director Sarah Goodrich.
Goodrich said she is continuously amazed by the community’s generosity.
“I feel like I’m walking in a miracle because every day things happen that are unexpected and if you had to predict that they could happen, you’d say, ‘No way,’ but they do and they have,” she said.
Thousands of meals were provided to hungry Schenectady County residents in 2013 by the Schenectady Inner City Ministry, which runs a food pantry and a summer lunch program for children. That feat could never have been accomplished without the help of donors and volunteers.
Donors contributed more than $15,000 to the Harvest for the Pantry fundraiser this fall — enough to buy the equivalent of 23,000 meals for food pantry patrons
SICM relies on about 2,000 volunteers annually to help serve Schenectady’s poor, according to Executive Director the Rev. Phillip Grigsby.
“The needs are great, but the response from the community is very, very strong and we’re grateful for that,” he said.
Year-round, volunteers and donors help to make the YWCA in Schenectady feel like a real home for the women who live there, said spokeswoman Jo-Anne Rafalik.
Groups donate their time and talents to provide meals and special evenings for women in the YWCA’s domestic violence program.
“We do look to the community to add finishing touches, especially now, during the holiday season, and then throughout the year to give [residents] a chance to feel like life can be fun,” she said.
There is a continuous outpouring of community support for the Saratoga County Animal Shelter, where helpers range from dog walkers to donors who bring toys, food and blankets.
“The animals can’t speak but if they could, they would say, ‘Thank you. We love you and we look forward to you coming in and taking us out for walks and helping take care of us,’ ” said Supervisor Debbie Oligny.