12 Easy Ways to Give Back Over the Holidays

by Jenny Friedman, Ph.D., coauthor of Doing Good Together

Jenny Friedman, Free Spirit Author

Between making holiday foods and marching through your gift list, slip in a few hours for a family volunteer project. These simple ideas will help connect your family with the needs in your community and provide a chance for your children to give as well as receive this holiday season.

1. Sponsor a family. Many families have a tradition of “adopting” a local family for gift giving. Social service agencies can match you with a family in need and suggest what gifts they would appreciate—usually basics like hats, mittens, socks, underwear, and blankets. And, of course, toys! If you need help finding a family, visit The Box Project and click on “holiday sponsor.”

2. Pass the cards. Homemade holiday cards are sure-fire day brighteners. Donate your creations to a local nursing home, Meals on Wheels program, or veteran’s hospital. Or send them to a service member through the American Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program, or a child with a life-threatening illness through Hugs and Hope.

3. Pack up parcels. Organize a family assembly line to bag up supplies for low-income families. Buy cost-effective bulk quantities of pinto beans or rice, then put family-size portions into two-quart reclosable plastic bags. Your local food shelf will distribute them for you, but contact them first to be sure you have a taker.

4. Get warmed up. A popular project is making blankets—no sewing required! Even youngsters can pitch in. Project Linus has instructions for a simple no-sew fleece blanket. Donate your creations to a local chapter of Project Linus, a local shelter, or to Soldiers’ Angels.

5. Create a giving box. It’s easy to get into the habit of giving when you make a fun container to collect your loose change. Start with a coffee can, shoebox, or jar. Decorate it together, then place it in a prominent spot in your home. When the box is full, decide together where to donate the money. Start with charities whose goals match your family’s interests.

6. Make a 2013 calendar of giving. Sit down together and choose one simple service project per month from the ideas listed on the Doing Good Together website. Other great projects are listed in © Doing Good Together Site LogoDoing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities (Free Spirit Publishing, 2010).

7. Pay a call. Each holiday, over 3 million people are confined to places like hospitals and care facilities, and 60 percent of those people receive no visitors. Your family can help them feel less lonely by simply sharing your time. Before going, call to find out the best time for a visit. Take along small gifts or homemade treats to share.

8. Join a toy drive. Pick out a toy for a child in need, then deposit your gift (unwrapped) at a convenient Toys for Tots location. It’s simple, doesn’t cost much, and helps spark the spirit of giving in your brood.

© Mangostock | Dreamstime.com9. Party hearty. For your holiday party, ask guests to bring a nonperishable food item, new or gently used book or toy, pair of socks or mittens, or other essential you can donate to a local charity. String up a clothesline so guests can hang the socks or mittens they bring, or create a “sculpture” from the canned foods they bring.

10. Give gifts that give back. Some fun possibilities:

11. Cause a stir. Bake some treats to donate to a lonely neighbor, a food shelf, our troops, or a group that serves the homeless or elderly. For ideas and inspiration, check out Spread the Bread, a great organization that encourages everyone to “bake a difference.”

12. Load a shoebox. Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, invites folks to pack a shoebox full of goodies (toys, school supplies, hygiene items) for children in developing countries. Have your children add a note and a photo of your family. This year’s deadline is today, so work fast, or start organizing for next year.

In what ways do you and your students and families help others during the holiday season?

DoingGoodTogether by FSPJenny Friedman, Ph.D., is the coauthor of Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities. Jenny is founder and executive director of Doing Good Together and a leading national expert on family volunteerism. She works with schools, businesses, youth-serving organizations, and congregations in addition to families and groups of families.

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