There has not been such dire need in our community since the Great Depression. Most of us weren’t around then, but according to statistics, unemployment, homelessness, and families struggling to put food on the table have made living in our beautiful country a daily test of survival.

As businesspeople, we don’t often see the invisible poor. Visits to the local Food Bank or Redwood Gospel Mission are not on our to-do lists. We still make reservations for dinner out, have our clothes dry cleaned, take vacations and go about our business not worried about our next meal or having to choose whether to pay PG&E or our rent this month.

Fortunately we live in a county where hundreds of agencies serve those in need. And during the holidays, these agencies are often overwhelmed with requests for help -- preparing and serving holiday meals, wrapping holiday gifts, helping organize various events that address the needs of those living on the edge.

The Volunteer Center acts as a clearinghouse for volunteers all year long, but we get an abundance of agency requests this time of year. As the lead organization of Secret Santa, for example, we coordinate the program that makes sure over 15,000 people in Sonoma County receive a holiday gift.

But that is just one program among many. And that is why this time of year presents an opportunity for each of us to do a little more.

The holiday season is a great time for people often too busy to make a long term volunteer commitment. Whether you volunteer for a few hours or a few weeks, you can make a significant difference. 

Some companies organize a team volunteer project and find the resulting esprit d’corps is a very positive corporate activity. The Exchange Bank has organized teams of volunteers to work at the Redwood Empire Food Bank in their warehouse, for example. 

In addition to organizing a group from your business to volunteer over the holidays, you may want to consider a family project. Including your children in delivering meals to shut-ins, packing groceries at a food pantry, wrapping gifts for needy children, visiting nursing homes where the holidays can be especially lonely, are all powerful ways to instill the values of compassion and caring.

With Sonoma County being the top region statewide in volunteerism, we know that so many do so much throughout the year. However, the needs during the holiday season are especially great, and we hope we can count on the business community, again, to take a leadership role in volunteering during the Season of Giving....

Jim Bray is community services director for the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County. To find local volunteer opportunities year-round, go to www.volunteernow.org.