Giving Back to the Community: 10 Ways to Make a Difference This Holiday Season

Can you believe Thanksgiving is just a month away?  It seems crazy how quickly this holiday season is approaching.  As you start to plan your own Thanksgiving meal and festivities – sometimes a stressful process – I’d encourage you to pause for a moment and consider ways of giving back to the community this season.

Volunteers sorting food donations with a text overlay about giving back to the community

Health Benefits of Giving Back

You know that volunteering and donations obviously benefit the recipient.  But it also benefits you as well!

Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, lower rates of depression, and more life satisfaction.  Individuals with chronic pain issues who volunteer report decreased pain and disability.

And these benefits likely extend to simple acts of giving in addition to volunteering too.  Some research suggests that giving and altruism are related to a better immune system, increased energy, less stress, and more joy.

10 Ways to Give Back to the Community

Here are some great ideas for ways to make a difference – whether it’s during this holiday season or throughout the year.  Try getting your family involved so that they experience the benefits of giving back to the community – as well as get a great lesson in kindness and empathy.

1. Make a financial donation to an organization or cause of your choice

While money can’t buy happiness, it can buy a lot of supplies or support for a non-profit organization.  Consider donating to a cause that you care about.  That could be anything from a cancer organization to your alma mater’s scholarship fund to Habitat for Humanity, and everything in between.

For example, several years ago, my apartment (along with about 20 other apartments in the building) was completely destroyed by a massive fire.  Red Cross was on the scene and provided immediate support and assistance in the coming days.  I’ve tried to donate to them when I’ve had available funds as a way of giving back.

2. Volunteer at a homeless shelter

Homeless shelters that serve meals often look for volunteers to help cook and serve.  You don’t have to be an expert in the kitchen to help – often there’s a lead volunteer or employee that’s there to instruct you and guide the way.  This is a great way of giving back to the community.

3. Spend some time at a senior center

Senior centers often host congregate meal events and look for volunteers – whether that is for helping with meal prep, or just for people to sit and chat with the residents.  Many senior citizens who have lost loved ones or family visit these events looking not only for food, but for someone to talk to and spend time with.

Some locations embrace having children come in to visit too.  It’s a great opportunity to bring your little ones with you and sit down to enjoy a meal with an older adult.  Nothing brings a smile to someone’s face quicker than a precocious little toddler.

4. Adopt a family to purchase gifts for this holiday season

Are you a die-hard Black Friday shopper?  Do you love the thrill of finding the perfect presents for everyone on your list?  Why not extend the joy and adopt a family to buy for this season!

Many organizations coordinate this, with options ranging from “adopting” one child all the way up to an entire family for holiday shopping.  You’ll typically receive a ‘wish list’ that the child has put together with the help of the organization to provide some ideas for your shopping.

You can get your kiddos involved as well by allowing them to help pick out a good toy to give to the child.

5. Participate in Operation Santa through the USPS

As an alternative to adopting a family through a local organization, you can also take a look and see if there are any “Operation Santa” post office locations near you.

This is something I didn’t know existed until several years back, but it’s such an amazing program.  Obviously, the post office deals with hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year.  Well, a few select post offices open up these letters to be “answered” by the general public.  You simply visit the post office, select a letter, and then you can purchase something that the child is wishing for.  Bring the letter and gift back to the post office where you’re able to mail it to them.

Only a few select post offices throughout the US offer this, but Boston and New York both have locations that participate.  Apparently in 2018, there may be the opportunity to get a letter online (rather than only at participating locations), so keep an eye out to see if that’s the case!

6. Get your fitness on – in a philanthropic way!

Trying to combine a love of fitness with giving back to the community?  There are several great ways for you and your family to do so:

  • Encourage the whole family to participate in a fun run that benefits a particular charity.
  • Volunteer with Back on My Feet, and organization that works to support the self-sufficiency of homeless individuals by engaging them in running to build confidence and self-esteem.  You can volunteer to run with the groups this month.
  • Look at your local YMCA for volunteer opportunities, or offer to lead a kids fitness class there.  If you have teens, there are often volunteer opportunities for them at the Y as well.
  • Volunteer to coach a kids sports team.

7. Give back to someone you know personally in your community.

On a more personal level, you could think about a friend or family member you know that is experiencing some type of struggle.

  • Is there a friend who struggles with their grocery budget?  Perhaps you and the kiddos could make a dinner to take over to the house.
  • Know someone that’s been aching to try a new fitness class but hasn’t been able to afford it?  Get out there and take ‘em to try it together.
  • Have a mom friend who is busting her butt and never gets a break?  Have you and your teen daughter give back and treat her to a few hours of babysitting one afternoon.

These acts of kindness can be a great surprise for the recipient (not to mention a happiness booster for you too).

8. Share about your favorite cause on social media.

It only takes one potential social share to start an avalanche of shares that can lead to something going viral.  Think about how large the ice bucket challenge got, and how much money that led to raising for ALS research!

If there’s an organization that you love and they are currently running a campaign for awareness or fundraising, go ahead and share that on social media.  It only takes a few minutes!

9. Do small, random acts of kindness.

Whether it’s paying for someone’s coffee in line behind you or putting a cart away at the grocery store, those small acts of kindness truly add up.  If you want a bunch of ideas, be sure to check out this post which includes a ton of random acts of Christmas kindness.  Even though the post says Christmas, most of these can be used anytime at all as a way of giving back to the community!

10. Donate to the food pantry.

In the time leading up to Thanksgiving (and of course, all year round!), your family can purchase extra food to donate to church food drives, homeless shelters, or food pantries.

While any food is of course appreciated, food pantries often suffer from an influx of foods high in unhealthy fats, added sugar, or sodium (think ramen noodles, cheap cookies, etc).  The RD in me encourages you to take an extra step and consider purchasing nutritious items for the donation bin.

Here are a few ideas for you and your family to grab at the store:

  • Low sodium cans of beans – These are wonderful as they can be eaten without cooking (for clients that are perhaps homeless or don’t have a stove), and contain lots of protein and fiber.
  • Brown rice – This whole grain staple provides lots of energy and is a good source of fiber and several vitamins/minerals.
  • Low sodium cans of vegetables – Canned vegetables offer a shelf-stable necessity, providing many vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that often fall short in the diet.
  • Healthier cereals – Here’s a great test to decide if a cereal is healthy(ish) – check if it meets these three criteria: a) it’s made from a whole grain, b) it contains 6 or less grams of sugar, and c) it contains 2 or more grams of fiber.  If you can find options that meet all three, you’re helping provide some great options for needy families.
  • Peanut butter – Rich in healthy fats along with a little protein, peanut butter is a shelf stable, tasty treat – and one that can go a long way for someone who is hungry when combined with a loaf of whole wheat bread.
  • Pouches or cans of tuna and salmon – These options provide lots of protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart and brain.  The pouches are particularly useful for homeless populations who don’t have can openers handy.
  • Shelf Stable Milks and Milk Alternatives – Shelf stable milks are ultra-pasteurized so that they can last longer at room temperature.  If you have the funds, it’s nice to provide a few alternatives (like almond milk or rice milk) in case the food pantry serves anyone with allergies.
  • Produce – Not all pantries or shelters accept fresh produce, but some do – so check before you decide to go this route.  Winter squash like butternut, acorn, or spaghetti squash are great options as they last for several weeks.
  • Diapers and toiletries – These are frequently needed but rarely donated, and can make a big difference for a family.

Festive pinecones with a text overlay about giving back this holiday season

There you have it – now let’s choose one and truly embrace the giving in Thanksgiving this year! 🙂

Share:  How will you focus on giving back to the community this year?  Are there any great ideas I missed in this list?

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