In the midst of holiday doorbuster sales, work parties, cookie swaps, and mile-long Santa wish lists, it’s easy to become consumed by Christmas excess. But the season is about much more than elbowing out another mom to grab the last Hatchimal on the shelf. The holidays are about giving back and there are many places to give back this Christmas.
All kinds of nonprofit organizations are looking for volunteers this time of year and for most of them you don't need to have any special expertise — just a free afternoon and a positive attitude. Just give them a call and ask for ways to help out as well as the days and times you're available.
Or, you can craft your own DIY giving back event, like organizing a coat drive, shoveling neighbors’ snow, or caroling around the city — provided you’ve got the musical chops (remember the key phrase here is “make a joyful noise,” not “prompt your neighbors to call the cops”). When it comes to offering help, there’s no need to be intimidated or concerned you don't know enough about how an organization works. There will likely be volunteer mentees there to help. And remember, it’s your presence not presents that means the most this time of here.
Here are 10 places to give back this Christmas season.
1. Serve a meal at a homeless shelter
As much as they need food donations, shelters often need additional hands to set the table, serve the meals, and clean the dishes. If the idea of approaching a shelter is intimidating, check its website first. Many shelters offer sign-up pages, where you can get detailed instructions on how to volunteer, then select specific shifts to work.
2. Box up meals at a food bank
During the holidays, many food banks are working overtime to accommodate the needs of food insecure communities. With school out for winter vacation, it’s even harder for some families to provide three meals a day. To make up for the shortage, some food banks will make extra holiday meals for people to have on Christmas. Call your area food bank to find out how you can help package or sort food for those special meals.
3. Make Christmas cards for nursing home residents
Christmas may seem like a marathon of fêtes and functions, but for the elderly it can be a lonely season. Make it a little brighter for nursing home residents by writing them Christmas cards. Or, better yet, help the nursing home residents write their own.
5. Pay it forward at the drive-thru
You don’t need to be Ellen Degeneres to surprise people with impromptu gifts. There are ways to do all sorts of random acts of kindness and the holidays are a perfect time to go for it. Next time you’re grabbing a latte at the drive-thru, pay it forward by covering the cost (or putting some cash towards) the next driver behind you. Imagine their surprise when they discover their caffeine fix has been paid for?
6. Read to children
Study after study suggests that reading to children is essential to their early development. If you’d like to read to kids, check out the volunteer options at your local public library which may host story time. Local bookstores also are a good option where you can volunteer to host your own holiday story time event.
7. Sign up to Be A Mentor
If you, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, want to keep “Christmas in your heart, and try to keep it all the year,” sign up to mentor to a child. There are many mentoring organizations across the country, but Be A Mentor is one of the most well established and works to place mentoring adults with children who are “at-risk” (generally considered those who live in low-income neighborhoods with high levels of crime, violence, and poverty) who need additional support. Visit beamentornow.org for details on how to get involved.
8. Drive for Meals on Wheels
For so many nonprofit organizations, giving of your time is just as vital as your financial donations. Such is case for Meals on Wheels. The free food delivery service often needs volunteers who have the time to make deliveries to seniors who need a warm meal. Lunch time is especially crucial. Visit mealsonwheelsamerica.org to sign up.
9. Pick up litter
When it comes to climate change, the picture is grim. The latest reports from the New York Times suggest that the planet has entered a climate change emergency. The statistics can be overwhelming and disheartening, but there’s still a lot you can do to make a difference. For instance, organize a litter pick up day. Perhaps through your work or just with family and friends, gather your troops and hit the sidewalks and highways to gather trash to beautify your neighborhood.
10. Bake cookies for your neighbors
You can make a difference in your own backyard by following Mr. Roger’s advice and practicing “radical kindness.” One idea? Bake cookies and drop them off to a neighbor unannounced. You might be surprised to find you feel just as much holiday cheer as they do receiving the treats.