Yoga is largely about relationships—to your practice, to yourself, and to your community. Collecting donations for shelters or delivering food to front-line workers is a powerful way for teachers, students, and studio communities to connect through service (seva). These tips will help ensure your good intentions have the most impact.
Don’t assume, ask
If you select an organization to support, ask them which items are in demand. The answer might not be what you expect, says Susan Sanow, a senior manager at Volunteer Fairfax in Virginia. In-demand items often include cleaning supplies, diapers, and personal-care products.
“Go out and talk to the people you intend to benefit,” adds Nelson Barry, who founded the nonprofit Urban Angels SF in 2015. The organization’s volunteers conduct weekly “angel runs,” or deliveries of meals, clothing, and love to people who face income insecurity or homelessness. “They may not need what you want to give them,” explains Barry.
When you reach out, do so with grace. “We shake their hands, we look them in the eye, we ask their names, we ask how they are doing, and ask if they have any specific needs,” says Barry of his co-volunteers.
Maximize each dollar
Inquire if your food bank accepts gift cards to grocery stores, suggests Sanow. This enables either the organization or a family in need to purchase exactly what is wanted.
“Do something really manageable,” says Barry of your initial volunteer effort. Request donations of winter coats and warm socks rather than initiating a full-blown, clean-out-your-closets clothing drive. This helps ensure your efforts translate into immediate results.
Offer assistance throughout the year
People struggle all year long. Schools and shelters need backpacks and supplies each fall; the unhoused need bottled water during warmer months. Or make your studio a year-round collection site, suggests Sanow: “Every time students come in for a class, they bring in a can of food.”
If you experience anger or sense a lack of appreciation from those you are seeking to help, pause and remember why you chose to volunteer in the first place, Barry says. “Be humble and grateful that you have the ability and the opportunity to be in service.”