I hope that you can find ways to be generous and give both time and items to those in need this holiday season. The holidays and this season is extremely hard for many people in our country, so anything you can do to make someone's holiday season safer, brighter, and happier is amazing. If your heart is exploding with generosity, but you have no idea what to do with it, consider these 12 ways to focus your generous energy and give back this season.
1. Locate your local food bank and donate (time and food).
It can be easy for people to think that poverty and hunger is something far away from them, but it is present and very real right here in the United States. Feeding America has a lot of information on hunger in America and resources to find your local food bank. Donating food is always helpful, but volunteering your time is taking it so many steps further. You get to be on the front lines of service and see the people you are serving.
2. Invite people to join your family.
If you know people who don't have a place to go, are struggling through a first holiday season without an important family member, or are struggling financially and can't afford to have a Christmas meal, much less a Christmas, invite them into your home. Even when we didn't have much, this is something my mom always did growing up. She would sit us down and talk to us about a friend of hers that was struggling and asked if it would be okay for them to join our family for Thanksgiving or for a Christmas meal. My sister and I learned from her that having more people around was always more fun, so we always said yes. We were almost a refuge for some families. I am forever grateful for my mom teaching me what generosity and being Jesus to other people looks like. I hope you can experience the joy of loving an extra family and/or person this season!
3. Do some "winter cleaning" and donate what you find.
It's about that time of year. You are transitioning your closet from summer tanks, shorts, and tees to sweaters, jeans, and those extremely comfortable fleece-lined leggings that keep you snug as a bug in a rug. In packing the summer away and getting the winter out, you are most likely going to find clothes that are too big/small for you. You are probably going to come across things and wonder why you even bought it in the first place. When you come across these articles of clothing, don't just leave them in your closet. Gather them up and donate them! There are so many places that you can bring them. Check with local churches and other organizations to see if they are doing clothing drives. You can also find your local Goodwill or Salvation Army and bring the clothes there. That way, people in need are going to get those clothes instead of you just never wearing them or throwing them away. You can also do this with other things like furniture, electronic goods, shoes, and many other things.
4. Get involved in gift-giving to kids in your community that need it.
As someone who helped lead a gift collection campaign for children at a local agency last year, I encourage you to first reach out to local organizations to see if they have families in need of help with Christmas gifts. Chances are, they will. If you are in the Waco area, you can check out Project Angel Tree that serves children whose parents are in prison. You are able to either donate money to be used towards gifts, or you can take an "angel" off of a tree at your local church or business and buy the gifts on that child's wish list. There are so many children who may not get a Christmas at all, so consider sponsoring one through Project Angel Tree or any other local organization!
5. Make a gift box (or many boxes) for Operation Christmas Child.
I have been doing this ever since I was a small child. My school always required us to make at least one box. A great thing about Operation Christmas Child is that they have very detailed lists that you can get ideas from and a variety of ages you can fill a box full of gifts for. These boxes get sent to more than 100 countries where kids would not otherwise get gifts or really much at all. This is a part of an organization called Samaritan's Purse that seeks to serve and spread the gospel, similar to the story of the good samaritan in scripture, so they also go to these countries spreading God's word!
6. Volunteer as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army.
I'll be honest, I had never considered doing this. I didn't even know that I could be one of those people who rings the bells and asks for donations outside of the mall and grocery stores. But a friend of mine told me that she volunteers every year with a group of her friends and has such a fun time hanging out with her friends all while gathering donations towards a great cause. You should totally sign up with your family and friends on Salvation Army's website.
7. Volunteer at your local animal shelter.
Animal shelters are very full most of the time, but even more so during these colder months. The people who run these organizations work so hard to make sure these animals are cared for, but they can always use help loving on the different cats and dogs. The Humane Society of Central Texas has many different volunteer opportunities and easy ways to sign up! Who knows? Maybe you'll end up taking one of the precious fur babies home for yourself!
8. Ask for people to donate to a charity that means a lot to you instead of giving you gifts.
My late grandmother asked for this every year for as long as I can remember. She battled cancer more than once and always asked us to donate to St. Jude Children's Hospital in order to further cancer research. I often find myself wondering what I even want for Christmas, so if you're the same way, spend your energy finding an agency with a mission that is meaningful to you and put donations to them on your wishlist!
9. Bake cookies and other goods and bring them to your local first responders.
First responders do and see more than we will ever know. Putting all politics aside, first responders see a lot of terrible things and work some extremely long hours. If you are wanting a way to show them that they are appreciated, bring them baked goods and/or home-cooked meals. First responders cover a wide variety of people in different jobs, so you can visit the website to get an idea of who you're baking for and where to bring the goods.
10. Buy a friend a plane ticket or gas card that can't afford to go home for the holidays.
You can probably think of a friend who wishes they were able to go home for Thanksgiving or even Christmas but lacks the funds to do so. If you have the funds, blessing them with the opportunity to see their own family can go a very long way. I remember a few years ago I had a friend from across the country who hadn't seen his family in several months. He was struggling to figure out how to get home for a holiday and eventually gave up and decided to stay on campus. Well, a group of friends decided that wasn't okay with them, so they pooled together their money and bought him a plane ticket home so he would be able to visit his family. He was overwhelmed with emotion and forever grateful to his friends. If you have the means, this is an amazing way to serve and love your peers.
11. Do some random acts of kindness.
I love random acts of kindness! People talk about how overrated they are, but y'all if someone is having a bad day and you hold a door open for them, buy their coffee, or give them a gift, you can really change someone's mindset on their day (maybe even their week, month, year, or life). Here is a list of 101 random acts of kindness, so now you have no excuse. Go through that list and start throwing kindness around like confetti (except less messy and frustrating to clean up)!
12. Make no-sew fleece blankets for people and animals alike.
When I tell you I have made so many of these and even still have several in my possession, I am not kidding. These blankets are easy to make and can keep you so warm. I usually get fleece and make them around finals so that I can have a nice "brain break" and create fun blankets for people that I love and people that I don't know. You can give these blankets to animal shelters and homeless shelters to keep these people and animals warm as the weather gets colder. Your blanket could potentially save someone's life, so they're worth spending a few bucks and minutes on.