giving back

How to give back during the Holidays in 8 different ways

Every blessing counts

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Around this time each year, I think that it is common to find ourselves wanting to do more. There are so many people around the country and the world that have a tough time over the holiday season. It could be because of tight finances, stressful family situations, or the loss of a loved one.

I try to give back each year during this time. I know that I have everything that I need, and want. It is fun for me to give to others and try to make someone else's holiday season. If this sounds similar to you, here are some organizations and ways to give back this season.

1. Operation Christmas Child

This is one of my favorite things to do each year. I started doing it in high school when the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club at my school was collecting for them. My church also participates and I did it this year. Anyways, this organization is run by The Samaritans Purse, and the goal is to distribute Christmas presents to children around the world. It is a faith based organization that delivers the gospel along with the gifts. All you have to do it pick an age group and gender of a child. You can choose boy or girl between the ages of 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14. You then pack a shoebox with various presents for the child. After that, you drop your box off at one of the 5,000 drop off center around the country. Unfortunately, the drop off week was November 12- November 19. This is a great organization and I would consider making a box next year.

2. The Salvation Army Bell Ringing

I am sure that you have seen the people outside of Walmart with the red buckets and the bells. You can be one of those people too! The bell ringing season starts in November and runs until Christmas Eve. The money put into the buckets goes right back into helping the community. It helps with the work that The Salvation Army does throughout the year. This includes basic needs, housing, youth services, rehabilitation, counseling, and spiritual care. On average, bell ringers get about $30 in donations every hour. If you are a smiley and cheery person, I suggest you spend two hours this winter as a bell ringer.

3. Marine Corp Toys For Tots

I love Toys For Tots. I had donated many toys throughout the years at the big white boxes at stores and at my schools. When I was in high school, my Girl Scout troop started volunteering at the warehouse near where we live. This completely changed my perspective on the organization. They need volunteers to sort toys that are donated and to be "runners" for toys when people come in. How it works is people come to pick up toys. You get a ticket with the number of children, their ages, and their gender. Then you go around the warehouse picking up toys for the family. It's like shopping -- except you don't have to pay and it's not for you. It was a lot of fun to do, especially If you have friends with you. Since it started in 1947, there have been 548 million toys distributed. Keep donating toys and sign up to volunteer behind the scenes at Toys For Tots.

4. Make-A-Wish Foundation

Each year, the Make-A-Wish foundation partners with Macy's in a fundraiser. Each Macy's stores has a big red mailbox for letters to santa. With each letter that is put in the mailbox, Macy's donates $1 to the Make-A-Wish foundation. $1 doesn't seem like a lot, but if 1,000,000 people write letters, then $1,000,000 gets donated to help children battling cancer and other diseases. It is so easy to write a letter. It can bring you back to when you were little and wrote letters to Santa Claus with your Christmas list enclosed. This is also a fun activity for school teachers to do with their classes, a way to practice writing and also give back.

5. Visit a Nursing Home

I have done this many times and it is really fun. Residents in nursing homes don't always get visitors and they can sometimes get lonely. Each time I have gone, we have sung Christmas carols through the halls and talked to the residents. You can also make ornaments for the tree or centerpieces for the table. I usually bring cookies or something for the staff as well. This might not always be doable. I usually have had to call ahead to ask permission. An organization called The Holiday Project helps to organize visits to people in nursing homes, hospitals, or other institutions. This is one way to spread some cheer in a not very cheery place.

6. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen or Donate to a Food Drive

This is something that is easy to do, and I am sure almost everyone has done it. Canned food drives are popular during this time of year. You can donate to these, or drop some groceries off at your local food pantry. UMD has their own food pantry right here on campus. You can volunteer and donate to this one, or at one of the countless others around us. Soup kitchens are something that is easy to volunteer at. These are both things that I think are done during the holiday season, but kind of forgotten about during the rest of the year. If you can't get around to it during the next month, I encourage you to try it another time during the year.

7. Donate Hats, Scarves, Socks and Gloves

Every year that I was in school, we would have a Christmas tree that we would cover with hats, gloves, socks and scarves. It was always a goal to cover the tree in as much winter apparel as possible. The garments on the tree would then be donated to a homeless shelter. You don't need a christmas tree to do this. It is easy to do. You can donate new or gently used items. Get some friends involved and make a trip together to drop them off. It is going to get cold and there are always people that could use a little extra warmth.

8. Blessings in a Bag

Blessings in a bag is something that you can do at home, and don't need to go to an organization to do. I first heard about these from a friend at my high school. These are bags that you can keep in your car to hand out to homeless people you might see at stoplights or on the side of the road. Inside the bag are things like snacks, water, socks, soap, chapstick, toothbrush, toothpaste, and other small necessities. If you belong to a church, you can put a business card in there so they know they have a place to go if they need more help. The business card can also be for places like homeless shelters or other organizations that can help them. This is something that can be done on the spot to help someone during this time.

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How To Stop Being The Toxic Person That You Would Normally Cut Out Of Your Own Life

It's so much easier to pin a problem on someone else than it is to look deep within yourself and take responsibility for the things that you've done. But that's all part of growing up.

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I'm sure you've heard it before...

"Cut someone out of your life if they negatively impact your mental health."

"You need to cut off friends, family, anyone that is bad for you and your future."

"You will be so much better off once _____ is gone from your life."

At this point in your life, you've probably cut off one or more people who you believed weren't good for you. You were prioritizing yourself, and that meant letting go of someone, regardless of the memories, bond, and love that you had for them. It was probably difficult, but somewhere down the line, you knew that you did what was best for you. And you stood by that decision.

But how many times have you been the problem?

How many times have you sat down and took the time to analyze a situation, only to come to the conclusion that YOU'RE the one that's messing up? And that if you changed x, y, and z, you could save or help your relationship with your friend, family member, or significant other.

Probably not very often.

It's so much easier to pin a problem on someone else than it is to look deep within yourself and take responsibility for the things that you've done. But that's all part of growing up. At some point, I hope you realize that you weren't so perfect either, after all. And when you do, this is what I want you to think about:

We all go through different phases of our lives, and it's okay to understand and acknowledge that this phase doesn't represent the best version of yourself. Character development isn't a strict upward slope, where you start off being a shitty, underdeveloped, immature person, but then progress into being an angel. There are going to be ups and downs. There are going to be moments where you're really disappointed in yourself, and can't believe that you let yourself slip up to that degree. We all have flaws, we all make mistakes. But also all have so much potential.

As long as you're willing to put in the effort to change (because everyone around you deserves that), then you're on the right track. And I'm proud of you for having the emotional maturity to self reflect and be better. That's the first step.

And the next step is going to involve putting everything you're saying into practice. I can't promise you that it's going to be easy. And I can't promise you that you're going to drastically permanently change overnight. If I did, I would be lying. But what I can promise you is that everything you're going to do will be worth it in the long run. I hope that's enough of a reason to dig deep for a new you.

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You Know You're From Trumbull, CT When...

The best memories are made in this boring, little, Connecticut town.

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1. The majority of places you will consider to eat at are in Fairfield or Westport... Colony, Shake Shack, Country Cow, Playa Bowls, BarTaco

2. But if you find yourself too lazy to get on 95 for food, Panchero's is the go-to... never Chipotle. If it is past midnight, the choice always comes down to the McDonalds in Monroe, where you are almost guaranteed to see a group of people you know, or Merritt Canteen.

3. Once you got your license, your Friday night plans consisted of picking up friends, driving up and down Main Street, and, somehow, always finding yourself at the THS parking lot seeing who's car is there because there is nothing better to do.

4. In the Fall, you couldn't wait for Friday so that after school you and half of your grade could walk to Plasko's Farm for ice cream and apple cider donuts... and hope you could get them before the owners would yell at you to leave. (This one only applies to Hillcrest Middle School kids, AKA the inferior middle school in town).

5. You couldn't wait to be a senior so you could officially lead the BLACK HOLE at football games... if you were even willing to go in the cold.

6. You looked forward to the annual Senior Scav, the last week of summer before your senior year where a list of tasks is passed down by the recently graduated class... the official kickoff to senior year.

7. You pass by Country Club Rd. and get flashbacks from the worst Cross Country practices ever. Driving up Daniels Farm Rd. in the Fall and Spring, you are conditioned to yell "hi" out the window to your friends at practice.

8. You knew someone who worked at Gene's gas station... and found yourself spending more time there on the weekends than you would like to admit.

9. You are convinced Melon-heads are real after frequenting Velvet St. to see the abandoned insane asylum with your friends, IF you didn't want to drive all the way up to Fairfield Hills in Newtown.

10. You have had/have been to at least one middle school birthday party at the Trumbull Marriott.

11. You know that the 25mph speed limit on Whitney Ave. is way too slow... and can't help but hit a little air going down the huge hill at the top.

12. The guy at Towne likely knows your name.

13. You never find yourself turning right out of THS... that side of town is irrelevant for those who do not live there.

14. You know to avoid the Merrit Parkway from 4:00-7:00pm at all costs.

15. You know more than you would like to about people you aren't even friends with... in a town so small, things get around very quick.

16. Going shopping really means going to Target, or any store in the mall, for the millionth time that week.

17. The marching band was the best in the state and you would see them practicing, literally, every time you drove by THS.

19. Depending on the side of town you lived, you spent a lot of time at Five Pennies Park or Indian Ledge Park.

20. You would say you couldn't wait to leave, but when you got to college, you find yourself excited to come back to your hometown so you can reminisce on old traditions and make new memories.

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