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.
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.
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.
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.
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.