How to give back during the Holidays in 8 different ways

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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A Letter To My Angel, Amanda

Rest Easy Angel 11.07.18

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Amanda,

Your death has been the hardest thing for me to accept because every day I knew you, you were so full of life. You were radiant. Your presence lit up every room you walked into and your infectious laugh filled it. You cared for everyone and put others before yourself. You were one of my first forever friends.

You accepted and loved me for everything I was and everything I was not. You kept me company whether we were sitting in my basement doing nothing at all or spending the day in New York City. You were constantly making me laugh and were always there for me.

I scroll through my camera roll and your Facebook all the time and there are so many random pictures of us that I can't place, that I can't explain, but they're my favorite pictures because they remind me that we have so many memories together that it's impossible to remember them all.

But every time I think of you I'm overwhelmed with seas of memories that I can remember every moment of. Do you remember when we went to your farmhouse for the weekend and spent hours melting crayons with a hair dryer to make our own board? Well, that picture ended up being my Dads background for about 6 years, I still can't tell you why.

Or the day I found out I was moving back to California and you held me while I ugly-cried and told me that we would be friends no matter how far apart we were because you knew that was my biggest fear? And then moving day when you came over and drew notes in sharpie over all of my boxes and we made a mattress slide?

I have countless memories that include you that I'll cherish forever, from playing Just Dance with you in the basement to sharing our 13th birthday party.

These past two months I've been full of anger. I've been angry at the world for taking you and angry at myself for letting life and distance get in the way. I'll probably hold a piece of that anger for the rest of my life but I'll also hold eternal appreciation and admiration for you.

I want to tell you that I appreciate that you were always there for me when I needed someone. I appreciate that you could make me laugh until I couldn't breathe even on my worst days. I appreciate that you accepted me for all my flaws and never expected perfection. I appreciate that you were always supportive and encouraging and most of all I appreciate that you were the most amazing friend.

I want you to know that I admire your strength. I admire how you were always able to find the good in everything and see the best in everyone. I admire how selfless you were, always putting others before yourself. I admired how nonjudgmental you were, you always gave the best advice. I admire how hard headed you could be, never giving up until you reached your goal but more importantly I admired you for being you.

Remembering you is so easy, it's having to miss you that's so hard. My life is better because you were a part of it and I'm far from the only one. There is an army of people that miss you every day that will carry a piece of you forever. Rest easy, angel.

I love you.

Shea.

You are forever in our hearts. 

Amanda Aujero

"Amanda was one of my only friends starting high school and was there with me through family dinners, sleepovers, breakups, SAT's, and graduation. She was a light and such a beautiful person. We laughed so hard together that we would pee our pants. I miss her like crazy and plan on visiting her and talking to her for the rest of my life. She taught me to live with no regrets." -Mary Skrzypczak

"One thing I loved about Amanda was that she had such an open-mindedness I could tell her anything with no judgements." -Avery Zulauf

"My favorite memory of Amanda is us driving down the main road in LBI and laughing our asses off. I have known Amanda for years but her last 2 1/2 years on earth, I feel as if we got the closer we had ever been and I'm internally grateful for that. I love you Amanda." -Catie Keating

"There's a billion amazing words I could use that perfectly describe Amanda, but the one that I think differentiates her from most people is "real". She was real. That girl was truly one of a kind; irreplaceable. I knew from a young age when we became friends in elementary school that I could lose all of my friends but if I only had her I would be okay. It even felt that way at times but she and I were happy having just each other. One of my favorite memories with her was when I moved to Florida to start my freshmen year in high school. We were both upset we weren't experiencing high school together and we promised that we would never stop being best friends. I was scared starting at a school in a new state and not knowing anyone, and you know what Amanda did? For the first week or so before I made friends she would FaceTime me at lunch everyday so I wouldn't eat alone. Now that's true friendship right there. When I moved back it was like I never left. I always thought of her as a sister who just happened to be my best friend too. If you learn one thing from this it's that everyone should have an Amanda in their life. And if you don't, then don't settle because if you have that relationship with someone it outweighs having hundreds of friends. Having that special relationship with someone regardless if you're both here or not will never die. It lives on and it's something that I will cherish forever." -Selena Gonzalez

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5 Stories That Shook America in 2018

It's been a long year. These stories prove that.

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Now that 2018 is officially over, we can look back on the year's most significant ups and downs and reflect on what's to come next. This year saw the emergence of two large-scale movements that broke down barriers and shook up society, increased our understanding of social media's implications, and revealed the troubling extent of America's immigration crisis. The following five news stories were some of the most covered national events of 2018. Each reflect the tumultuous, eye-opening, inspiring year 2018 has been.

Facebook's Mishandling of User Data

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before Congress in April.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsF4y8oAdkn/

This social media giant has long been the target of government criticism, but its troubles seemed to peak last year in March. That's when federal regulators began to investigate Facebook's mishandling of user data in connection with the 2016 presidential campaign. The Federal Trade Commission's investigation came in response to reports that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly gained access to 50 million users' information, and exploited this information in Trump's favor during the election. Since then, Facebook's stock value has plummeted, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has launched an aggressive apology campaign. In April, he appeared before an unforgiving Congress to answer questions about Facebook's lacking privacy policies. The company's repeated failures to protect user data will most likely lead to stronger federal regulations come 2019.

March For Our Lives

Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland survivor and one of the movement's organizers, speaks at the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsEfnKWnph_/

On February 14, 2018, seventeen students and teachers were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Days after the tragedy, Parkland students flooded major TV networks demanding gun control. The March For Our Lives movement was created by a group of MSD juniors and seniors with the goal of rallying their generation for gun reform, in the hopes that one day school shootings would be a thing of the past. One month later, over 2,000 schools participated in a nationwide walkout to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Ten days after that, millions gathered in Washington D.C. to march in solidarity with the students of MSD and send a message to lawmakers. As many of these students reach voting age in the coming year, it will be interesting to see how politicians respond to their demands, and the gun control legislation that will follow.

Family Separation 

A portrait of Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, the second Guatemalan child to die in U.S. Border Patrol custody following implementation of the "zero-tolerance" immigration policy.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Br8knx6AVT7/

The Trump Administration's family separation policy at the border, first practiced in October, is perhaps the most controversial act thus far by one of the most controversial presidents. On April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that would soon separate thousands of children, and many infants, from their parents as they reached the United States. Unsurprisingly, the American public reacted swiftly and angrily to the policy, and their outrage peaked in June when photos of children held in cages began circling the internet. Judges have ordered that the Department of Homeland Security reunite separated families, but the agency has failed to reach two different deadlines, and as of three months ago as many as 200 children remain in government custody. With recent reports that two Guatemalan children have died in Border Patrol custody, this tragic issue won't be going away in 2019.

#MeToo

Actress Ashley Judd, who became one of the first women in Hollywood to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault in a 2017 New York Times exposé.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqxhw1CA9Va/

The #MeToo movement began in late 2017 when a New York Times exposé featured firsthand accounts from several women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. As more and more men were forced to step down from powerful positions, Alyssa Milano coined the hashtag "MeToo" to represent victims of sexual assault, and hence the movement began. The following months saw the creation of the Time's Up coalition, the record-breaking second annual Women's March, the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, and the imprisonment of Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Larry Nassar. This movement, which took hold over not only Hollywood, but each profession, has brought permanent change to the country as women gain more seats in office and more representation in media. #MeToo has set the precedent for future steps toward gender equality in 2019.

Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation Hearing

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford prepares to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsAzHhzHgq8/

Publicized by the #MeToo movement and defined by the political loyalties of skeptical conservatives, Supreme Court judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings kept the nation on edge for two weeks in mid-October. The reason: Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and alleged that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when they were in high school. The poise with which Ford presented her testimony, contrasted with the emotional turbulence that characterized Kavanaugh's defense, both moved and shocked the many Americans who watched the hearings unfold live on television. After an initial delay, the confirmation vote proceeded, and Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court on a narrow 50-48 vote split along party lines. To many, Kavanaugh's confirmation symbolized just how much progress the United States has yet to make in its treatment of sexual assault victims, and how little the nation has changed since Anita Hill testified against then-nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991.

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