Refood Albufeira get-together in November
Refood Albufeira get-together in November

Feel connected: become a volunteer in Algarve!

Three associations in Algarve where volunteering is about more than helping others

Refood Albufeira, Madrugada and Friends of Canil de Portimão have completely different causes but something in common – they all depend on volunteer work

Donating our time is just as or even more valuable than a monetary donation, especially during a time of solidarity when the Christmas spirit touches the hearts of everyone. Helping those in need is something anyone can do. There are associations that depend on volunteer work throughout the entire country and the Algarve is no exception, with a plethora of options for any preference.

The benefits of doing volunteer work are plenty, according to members of Refood Albufeira, Madrugada and Friends of Canil de Portimão. Each association operates in the Algarve and counts on the help of people from a wide range of nationalities who dedicate themselves to several tasks to help others.

Moving to another country is always a challenge, mainly when it comes to integrating yourself in a new community when you’re retired or working remotely. However, belonging to a group where you help other people whilst getting to know like-minded people is a way of developing a feeling of inclusion.

Refood Albufeira

Erica Kitzman, a former creative writing coach and movie producer from California who moved to Portugal with her husband Darrell when they both retired, has joined the Albufeira Refood group.

Aside from enjoying visiting historical and cultural locations, she and her husband wanted to participate in a useful activity during their free time and become involved in the local community, which led them to become volunteers for Refood, which “supports families in need and fights food waste”, says Albufeira Refood leader Paulo Agualusa.

The Refood Movement, which is “independent, sustainable and 100% based on volunteer work”, helps foreigners “feel integrated”, Agualusa explains, adding that there are Portuguese, British, Swedish, Russian, Ukrainian, Chilean, American and Brazilian volunteers who help out at Refood Albufeira, among other nationalities.

“Integrated” is exactly how Erica and her husband feel by offering two hours of their week to the project. They began by serving food to the project’s beneficiaries on Friday evenings, and now they have volunteered to clean the service centre once a week.

Darrell and Erica Kitzman
Darrell and Erica Kitzman

The couple decided to choose Refood Albufeira after being invited by friends who were already part of the movement. As they put it, “all people deserve access to excellent fresh food”.

“It has been a very welcoming experience,” Erica says, adding that “the Portuguese volunteers are extremely generous in spirit and make a clear effort to include us”.

Being surrounded mostly by locals is a “huge advantage for immigrant volunteers to become involved in local and national events and activities and to learn to speak better Portuguese,” they say. Volunteering for Refood has not only made them happy but also allowed them to interact with other volunteers, coordinators and the people who need Refood’s help.

The organisation and communication between all involved helps make the job and the relationships easier, Erica says, adding that belonging to the movement has “definitely been a good contribution to our integration into our community”.

When she arrived in Portugal, Erica had a hard time finding places to volunteer at, being an “immigrant who is not yet literate in Portuguese”. However, she eventually also became a member of three other volunteer organisation websites.

“Volunteering is something that me and my husband, as immigrants, can offer to the Portuguese after they have so kindly accepted us as residents,” Erica says, stressing that helping others allows “older adult immigrants who are retired to become part of the communities they live in, which is good for physical and emotional well-being”.


Sixty kilometres away, in the western Algarve, is the headquarters of Madrugada, an association focused on care and support for people affected by life-limiting illness. It is led by John Hough, a former university professor in London, UK, who holds a degree in International Business Marketing. He has been a volunteer at the charitable association that helps people with terminal illnesses since 2014, and has been the president for four years, having been recently re-elected.

Since the creation of Madrugada in 2009, the association’s services have been requested by more than 300 people of different nationalities such as English, Irish, German, Dutch, and more and more Portuguese, which would not be possible “without having a wonderful team of volunteers”, says John Hough.

“We’re hugely grateful and enormously fortunate that we have so many people that want to help us,” said the president, acknowledging that the particular service they dedicate themselves to is “very difficult to advertise” because they help people with terminal diseases.

Volunteers perform several roles: some help out in charity shops, others support the clinical programme, such as delivering care or equipment, and there are those who engage in fundraising or networking, such as spreading the word about what Madrugada does.

At the Madrugada Support Centre in Luz, during the official launch of the ‘Birds of the Algarve’ 2024 Calendar in September
At the Madrugada Support Centre in Luz, during the official launch of the ‘Birds of the Algarve’ 2024 Calendar in September

“We would really like to be perceived as a complementary service to the community nursing one,” says John, noting that, in addition to providing nursing services and support to families, they also supply hospital beds and electric mattresses.

These are not the only positive aspects of Madrugada’s work; they also do a lot of recycling, and creating the desire to help among their volunteers “gives people a reason to get out of their houses, do something worthwhile, and come together, which helps in building their network when they are foreigners,” he explains.

Madrugada has British, Irish, Dutch, German, and Portuguese volunteers, who often bring their own distinct perspectives and ideas. However, all aspire to provide the best care for Madrugada’s patients and, therefore, bring constant energy and innovation to the association. “Our greatest assets and our greatest resource are our volunteers, and they bring huge amounts of talent and opinions,” says the president.

Acts of kindness come from both locals and foreigners, including students and retirees. Recently, the association received a donation of €650 as a result of a school project dedicated to fundraising for a charity organisation and a “generous donation” from Fine & Country Algarve, delivered to the Lagoa charity shop.

John Hough, Madrugada president
John Hough, Madrugada president

Although so much has already been achieved, there is still a lot more that the leadership hopes to do, such as providing its service throughout the region and expanding the four charity shops they currently have in Luz, Lagos, Lagoa, and Ferreiras.

The main goal is for Madrugada’s service to be “of and for the community”, according to John, who reiterated: “All our members are providing this service to those in need in the community.”

Currently, the association assists patients, mostly in the area where it is based up to Aljezur, but has also had patients in Almancil and hopes, in the coming year, to expand by recruiting nurses residing in Loulé.

Friends of Canil de Portimão

Coming from the north of the Netherlands, Monique Gieling has been a volunteer for 10 years at the Friends of Canil de Portimão organisation, whose main goal is to care for dogs and cats and assist in their adoption.

Previously, she had her own long-term rentals company in her hometown for a decade until she decided to change her life and come to Portugal. Although she never engaged in any activity related to animals, she always liked dogs and had two cats, so choosing the cause she wanted to dedicate herself to was easy.

She started by walking dogs once a week, then taking care of a puppy before eventually caring for up to 30 animals from the Portimão municipal kennel (Canil Municipal de Portimão). (Writer’s note: The renovated Portimão Municipal Kennel was officially inaugurated last week by local mayor Isilda Gomes. It is located in the Coca Maravilhas Industrial Zone. All are invited to visit the Canil Municipal de Portimão on December 16, from 11am to 3pm, to celebrate the renovated facilities)

Inauguration of the renovated municipal kennel in Portimão
Inauguration of the renovated municipal kennel in Portimão

Her first volunteering experience became her full-time unpaid occupation. Now, she is responsible for the care and adoption of kittens and puppies. This decision was a significant factor in her adaptation to “a new life” because she met new people and feels useful while doing what she loves.

Not only does she do something that she feels is fulfilling, but she also feels that she belongs to a team of about 20 people committed to various activities of the association. This group “helps integrate foreign people, and it creates a community”, says Monique.

The association regularly posts ads on Facebook, which requires effort from volunteers. “Promoting the dogs online helps a lot, but it costs time, and you need people to do it,” says Monique, clarifying: “People give the time they have. It’s flexible work; anyone can help.”

Typically, they foster between 15 to 20 dogs, a number that varies depending on adoptions, a process that “is not easy” and which requires Monique to assess the futures of the adopted animals.

Let's go! Dog walkers are always welcome
Let’s go! Dog walkers are always welcome

She has felt “very welcome” since she started volunteering for the Friends of Canil de Portimão.

“They are happy about everyone who wants to help and who is reliable,” says Monique, who was easily integrated into the team in a process which she believes contributed to her adaptation to Portugal.

The association has members of all ages, hailing from Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, UK, as well as locals. They all share a common love for animals and a huge desire to help those who do not have a home.

These three members of the charities previously worked in completely different areas than those they currently dedicate themselves to as volunteers. They redirected their daily focus to actions of social and community interest, where the goal is to assist those who need it the most.

How you can help

All three charities gladly welcome donations.

  • In the case of Madrugada, donations are used for palliative care at home, family counselling and caregiver support, as well as complementary therapies and bereavement counselling. Donations can be made to the account number 40230973026 (Name: MADRUGADA-ASSOC AJUDA SUPORTE P A DOENÇAS TERMINAIS, IBAN: PT 50004571944023097302619, BIC/SWIFT: CCCMPTPL). For UK donors, you can use the service provided by GCEN Global Currency Exchange Network to make sterling donations. For further clarification, contact [email protected] or +351 282 761 375 or +351 925 664 235.
  • Donations to Refood are used to help the collection, preparation, and delivery of food from restaurants, citizens, supermarkets, canteens, events, and producers to families in need. You can contact the movement by email ([email protected] or [email protected]) or by telephone (+351 218 947 100 or +351 969 888 314).
  • The Friends of Canil de Portimão association uses donations for food, accommodation and well-being, medical bills, sterilisation of dogs and cats, and works at the kennel (donations can be made to BPI Lagoa, IBAN: PT50 0010 0000 4780 9000 0010 8, SWIFT/BIC: BBPIPTPL). Contact Monique for dog adoptions through [email protected] and Mandy for cats and kittens through [email protected]


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