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Well, it's that time of year again when friends and families gather to celebrate the holidays. For some — those without either — it's the loneliest time of the year. My question is: If you are one of the people who find themselves alone, perhaps socially isolated on a rural property, not a churchgoer, with no relatives or close acquaintances in the area, are there local clubs or organizations or some other method to ease the sting of being alone?

— The Loneliest Number

An easy way to make contact with others during the holidays is to attend a community meal.

For example, Ashland Christian Fellowship will host the free 38th annual Free Community Christmas Dinner from noon to 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 25, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St. Volunteers and merchants will help feed a crowd that in some years has reached 900 people. 

Better yet, consider volunteering in the days before or the day of the event by calling 541-482-8539 or visiting www.acfweb.org. Volunteers are needed to do everything from cut vegetables to sweep up.

Volunteering is one of the best ways to meet new people, feel better and benefit the community. Call RSVP at 541-857-7780 or email jbswanson@retirement.org to learn about a variety of volunteer opportunities.

Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity, for example, needs short-term volunteers to help with its fundraising gift-wrapping site in Rogue Valley Mall throughout December. The organization also uses volunteers year-round.

Last Saturday, volunteers helped fill shoeboxes with small gifts for seniors at the Olsrud Family Nutrition Center, 2020 Cardinal Ave., Medford, for the annual ACCESS Senior Shoebox Project. Call 541-774-4324 or email nicki@accesshelps.org for more information about volunteering to help deliver shoeboxes.

A small sampling of other organizations who welcome volunteers include Friends of the Animal Shelter, Providence Medford Medical Center, Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Food and Friends/Meals on Wheels, Grandmas2Go, St. Vincent de Paul and Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) program.

You didn't say how old you are, but local senior centers are hubs of activity, offering games, fitness classes, dancing, meals, education classes and more.

For people who have difficulty leaving their homes, Jackson County Library Services has an Outreach to the Homebound program that delivers books, music and movies to people who can't come to the library because of age, illness or disability. Call 541-774-6562 or email astephens@jcls.org.

The Rogue Valley is full of book discussion groups. Check the Activities calendar in the Mail Tribune's weekly Tempo arts and entertainment guide, or ask for information at local bookstores or library branches.

Tempo also has listings for a wide gamut of interest groups and activities, including movies and art activities at library branches, author talks, sewing, quilting, embroidering, cribbage, knitting, singing, trivia contests, wood carving, foreign language groups, vintage car enthusiasts, ice skating and performances.

Active, outdoorsy types can try the Slopes and Trails activity club. Activities include meeting at local restaurants, skiing, hiking, camping, rafting, biking and going to movies and the theater. See www.slopes.org.

The Ashland Newcomers Group includes hundreds of members, including those new to the area and people who have stayed involved for years after making friends through the group. Activities include regular women's breakfasts, men's breakfasts and a social hour. The Newcomers Wine Group is open to anyone in the Ashland, Jacksonville or Medford area. See ashlandnewcomers.com.

Although you may be far from friends and family, the website PsychCentral recommends writing letters, emailing or calling to stay in touch or reconnect with those who don't live nearby.

PsychCentral reminds people that loneliness is common and affects millions of Americans, especially around the holidays. Experts recommend working to build relationships year-round, not just when the holiday blues strike.

If the holidays really have you down, consider talking to your health care provider about depression and available treatments. Symptoms of depression, including withdrawing from others and losing interest in activities, can worsen loneliness, leading to a downward spiral.

— Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

Sarah Bieniek, a volunteer, wraps a present Saturday at the Habitat for Humanity gift-wrapping booth at Rogue Valley Mall. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]