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As the weather starts to get colder, organizations are preparing to open their winter shelters to help those seeking assistance get out of the elements.

While permanent housing, often coupled with supportive services, is the best way to end homelessness, many individuals and families need short-term stabilization before they can find housing that will meet their long-term needs. Volunteers are a vital part of the operations of these shelters.

ECHOS Emergency Winter Shelter, located in Elizabethtown, is scheduled to open at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7. It provides a warm, safe, dry place for individuals and families experiencing homelessness to sleep during the cold, winter months.

Last year, 61 individuals, including 12 children and four seniors, spent a night at the shelter. Construction is underway to build a larger shelter on the complex, but COVID-19 has caused delays.

The shelter cannot open without the support of volunteers to staff it. It takes approximately 70 volunteers a week to run this program.

Currently, ECHOS has the commitment of about 50 volunteers, but they need the commitment of about 200 community members to make this endeavor possible.

Volunteers are needed to be evening greeters, overnight volunteers and members of morning cleanup crews.

Under the direction of ECHOS staff and the team leader, evening greeters help check people in, perform security checks, serve dinner, oversee the shower process and interact with guests.

Four evening greeters are needed each evening. Two overnight volunteers (one of each gender) stay overnight, alternating sleeping and monitoring the shelter.

The three morning cleanup crew volunteers wake guests up, serve breakfast, send guests on their way with a to-go lunch and clean up the shelter so it is ready for the next evening. Not to worry: The shelter staff is following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines with regards to COVID-19.

If you are interested in helping to keep the shelter open this winter season, please contact the ECHOS office at 717-361-0740 or email office@echoslancaster.org.

Child-abuse clearances and criminal background checks are required.

Other opportunities

For other great ways to give back and get involved, consider one of these current volunteer opportunities.

— Garden Court is a family-friendly housing complex serving a large majority of low-income households. Garden Court is the heart and home of many families working hard to make ends meet, as well as home to many seniors living on fixed incomes.

This year has been exceptionally hard for those who have lost hours, jobs and/or childcare.

If you’d like to help brighten an individual or family’s holiday, please reach out to Garden Court’s resident service coordinator, Chelsea Imhof, at 570-955-6697, or by email at chelsea.imhof@presmgmt.com.

— United Way of Lancaster County’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program is looking for volunteers to help with greeting clients and scanning documents.

This person is the first point of contact between Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and clients, and will provide a superior customer experience by facilitating their tax-preparation process.

All volunteers must be identified by the end of the year, and will begin training in early January 2021. Tax-prep appointments will run from mid-January to April 15.

For more information, contact Michelle Ingham at ingham@uwlanc.org.

— Eicher Arts Center is seeking a volunteer treasurer to oversee checks coming into the Eicher for people and groups using facility, and to oversee authorized spending and make reports at evening meetings of the nonprofit board.

A stipend for service may be arranged.

The special skills or volunteer requirements include trustworthiness and an ability to keep records and make monthly reports. Meetings are usually in the evening on the second Tuesday each month.

If you’re interested, contact Robert Larkins at larkline@aol.com or 717-738-0946.

Nonprofit organizations in Lancaster County are encouraged to publish volunteer needs in this column.

For a copy of submission guidelines, or if you have questions about volunteering in Lancaster County, contact United Way’s Volunteer Center at 717-824-8122 or email Volunteer@UWLanc.org.

Audrey Lilley is the manager of volunteerism and advocacy at United Way of Lancaster County.