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Six ways to make a big difference to those in need this winter

Looking to ward off the winter blues by doing something positive? There are plenty of things you can do that will make you feel happier over the colder months and a lot of them will help others, too.

And we know that lending a hand makes you happy: “Community & volunteering” was one of the top 10 interests in our most recent major member survey, and we know you contribute to charities and groups as diverse as Meals on Wheels, The Salvation Army and Sydney’s Asylum Seeker’s Centre. 

Winter can be really tough for some Australians – on any given night in Australia, around one in 200 people are homeless, many of them sleeping on the streets or in makeshift shelters. Winter not only means dealing with the cold, but also illnesses that are more prevalent in winter. For others, tight budgets mean winter clothing, food and heating may be hard to pay for.    

If you’d like to make a difference, here are six ideas.

Help others stay warm

Spring is not the only time you can have a satisfying tidy-up or clean out. Winter is a wonderful time to sort out wardrobes and linen cupboards, and items such as spare blankets or coats you no longer use can be donated to charities who will make sure they are put to a good use, either via sales at opportunity shops or given directly to people who need them.

This year, more than 70 funeral homes across Australia are helping charities collect clothing and food donations via a Winter Warmers appeal. Running until June 30, the campaign sees funeral groups such as Blackwell Funerals, George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals, Guardian Funerals, Le Pine FuneralsPurslowe & Chipper Funerals  and Tobin Brothers, along with numerous single business operators, act as collection points for donations to charities including Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army and Colony 47. What are they collecting? “Anything that will keep a person warm” – so you can donate items in good condition including scarfs, socks, gloves, beanies, jackets, blankets and sleeping bags. The businesses will also collect canned food (with at least six months until the expiry date). 

The Winter Warmers appeal is an extension of a blanket appeal run in previous years, which saw thousands of blankets added to the stocks of charities across Australia, to give practical support to vulnerable and homeless men, women and children.

To find out what businesses are acting as Winter Warmers collection points in your community, see the full list here

Bed & breakfast

If you’d like to help others enjoy a hot shower, a safe place to sleep out of the cold and breakfast the next morning during winter’s chilly months, there are charities and groups across Australia who would love a hand, or a donation, to make it happen. In the Yarra Valley in Victoria, for example, the Winter Night Shelter project, now in its second year,  sees 7 churches opening their premises to offer guests a hot meal, fellowship, a warm bed and breakfast the next morning. Where possible, the churches are also installing showers.

The Melbourne City Mission’s Winter Appeal this year aims to raise $350,000 to redevelop its Frontyard Youth Services building to include onsite youth crisis accommodation with 18 beds providing a warm, safe place to sleep alongside integrated support services.  

In NSW, a donation to Wentworth Community Housing’s Winter Homeless Appeal can pay for a night’s temporary accommodation while permanent housing is sourced.

Even with projects like these, demand often exceeds availability. Donating to a cause that provides sleeping swags for people sleeping rough can help – Street Swag’s Winter Appeal, for example.

Care for pets

Whether you’re a pet lover looking for a way to add a little more to your budget to pay for those winter heating bills, or you’d like to make sure that animals in need are also looked after over the cold months, there are ways to help.

Nabo partner Pawshake connects animal lovers with people who need a hand caring for their pets – from dog walking to pet-sitting – so if you’ve got what it takes to become a verified Pawshake pet carer, it could be a great way to earn money and spend quality time with animals. (Pawshake also has some great tips on keeping our furry and feathered friends comfortable and healthy when the weather is cold).

If you’d like to make winter easier for Australian animals, here are some ideas:

- A $5 donation to Horse Rescue Australia’s Winter Appeal will provide a hearty breakfast for one of their rescued horses or ponies

- Peggy’s Promise in Gosford, NSW, is a registered charity that assists pets whose families are the homeless or severely disadvantaged. Volunteers provide desexing, vaccinating, micro-chipping, medications, grooming and urgent vet treatment.

- The state RSPCA organisations offer help to people who are homeless and need assistance caring for their pets

Pass it on

Blankets and warm clothing aren’t the only things that you could pass on to a happy new owner. You could make winter easier or more fun for neighbours in need by giving away or selling other things you don’t need – anything from toys to storage space.

Nabo’s ‘For sale’ or ‘Free to a good home’ listings are a great way to move on things you don’t need.

GiveNow, an online donations platform, lists a wide range of groups seeking support, including places that take donations of goods such as blankets, books, clothes, food, furniture and electrical appliances, as well as money

Or perhaps you have an empty room, attic or garage? Renting it out can be a great way to add some dollars to your budget, or you could be like Nabo partner Spacer, which connects people with space with people who need it. Over the past six months, Spacer has donated several storage cages in the Kensington area to the Ted Noffs Foundation, an Australia-wide non-for-profit charity, working to support disadvantaged youths. 

An early helping hand

A lot of organisations work hard to prevent people experiencing homelessness. St Vincent de Paul Society, for example, helps people find accommodation and gives other support to people facing a crisis.  Nabo chatted to a Vinnies spokesman about how we can help. “There’s two main ways neighbours can club together and support Vinnies, and the people we assist, this winter: Donate unwanted clothing and other items in good condition to your local Vinnies Shop (remember – if you wouldn’t give it to a mate, it’s not to donate.) Clothes and proceeds from sales go to people in need. Or collect for our Vinnies Winter Appeal so we can help people experiencing disadvantage this winter.” You can find your local Vinnies here, or donate to the Winter Appeal here or by calling 131812.  The Red Cross is another national organisation that works to support both those who are experiencing homelessness and those at risk.

If you’d like to help break the cycle of youth homelessness, a donation to Ask Izzy is a great option. Ask Izzy is a website that connects people in need with services including shelter, food, clothing and healthcare. With almost 28,000 young Australians homeless every night, and the numbers continuing to rise, Ask Izzy launched an appeal this week to raise money for initiatives that connect young Australians with the help that they need.  

Spend some time

Winter sometimes makes us want to curl up on the couch under a doona – but getting out and doing something productive can be a great antidote to the winter blahs, and a chance to meet new people in your community. You could see if a sports club needs help with coaching, volunteer at a community garden, or spend time helping with social services that might need extra help in winter, such as soup kitchens and food banks.

The GoVolunteer website is a good place to search – opportunities over winter include volunteer drivers with Anglicare’s Pantry Appeal, and helpers at camps for disadvantaged children. You can also check out Nabo’s groups section to see if there’s a group near you looking for help.

As you can see from these ideas, you can make a difference in many ways, with time, money or things you no longer need. Everyone’s efforts add up to helping a lot of people in our communities over winter.

If you’re homeless, facing a crisis or need support, you can search more than 350000 services on Ask Izzy to find food, healthcare, a place to stay, legal advice and more near you. Advocacy organisation Homelessness Australia has assembled a long list of services, divided by state, here. Find details of St Vincent de Paul Society services in your area here and Red Cross services here.

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