The holiday season is special for so many reasons. It’s the time when we gather and celebrate our friends and loved ones, when we embrace the nostalgic traditions that root us in our culture and family, when we allow joy and festivity to color our day-to-day through decorations, food, gatherings, gifts and more. More than anything, this time of year is all about gratitude. Remembering to be thankful for everything we have in our lives, and appreciate those around us who make our health, well-being and happiness more possible.
The holiday season is also about giving back, which is the best way to honor a spirit of gratitude. And there are so many ways to give back, even amidst the challenges that the pandemic has brought on this year. From donating, to volunteering, to little acts of kindness, there are endless ways you can show support to your community and those who are in need this time of year.
To help get started, I’ve rounded up a list below of 9 different ideas for giving back this holiday season.
1. Donate to or volunteer at a food bank through Feeding America
Feeding America is the largest national hunger relief organization in the U.S. with a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs around the country. There are many different ways to help support this organization: through donating to your local food bank; volunteering at a food bank or pantry in your area, which could involve anything from sorting and packing food to assisting families during their visit; or send some hope by writing an uplifting card to a family that is struggling to put food on the table this year. Feeding America also has a handy tool to help you easily find your local food bank and pantry programs.
2. Deliver meals through Meals on Wheels
According to Meals on Wheels, more than 9 million seniors in America face the treat of hunger, and millions more live alone in isolation. Help them get a nourishing meal, plus the warming comfort of a friendly face by volunteering with this amazing organization. I’ve volunteered with them in the past — the day involved picking up meals from a distribution center, and then driving to the addresses I was given to drop of the food along with a smile and some kinds words. Other opportunities may involve working directly at the distribution center to help prep meals to be delivered. There are many communities that are in need of extra help this year because of the pandemic. You can read more about Meals on Wheels and the work they are doing, plus sign up to volunteer this holiday season.
3. Participle in a toy drive
You can help make this holiday season special for thousands of children by donating to toy drives that provide toys and gifts to children. Look out for local drives happening in your community (you can usually find that info through local schools, churches and community centers), or support a credible national organization like these:
Salvation Army + Walmart Angel Tree: “Simply pick a tag off the Angel Tree located inside your local Walmart store or follow the instructions below to shop online using Walmart’s Registry for Good. Once the gifts are received, The Salvation Army will distribute them to families in need for Christmas morning.”
Toys for Tots: This organization run by the U.S. Marines has supported 265 million children since it began in 1947. You can support this group by purchasing new toys and donating them at a drop off spot near you, or shop online for toys to donate (or simply give money) through the Toys for Tots website.
One Simple Wish: This organization works specifically to provide for the needs of the nearly half a million children in the foster care system. You can view the hundreds of wishes submitted by individual children and answer a wish through a direct donation.
4. Be an elf and answer letters to Santa
This holiday program through the USPS, now called Operation Santa, has been helping children in need since 1912, and allows you to help a child or family without going through a middleman agency. The USPS says thousands of children in need mail letters to Santa through the USPS. Through this program, you can pick out a letter that speaks to you, shop for items on that child’s wishlist, and send them directly to the family. There are options to support families as an individual or a group.
5. Continue to support the fight for racial justice
There would truly be no better Christmas gift than a complete end to racial injustice in this country. While that’s not something that will happen over night, or even by December 25th, it is something that we must continue to support and fight for, even more so during this season that is so anchored by love, community, and the spirit of giving.
You can start by educating yourself about how racial inequity and ideas of whiteness have seeped into our cultural understanding of the holiday seasons and the traditions we uphold within in. The Center for Racial Justice in Education has an incredible list of resources for teachers, parents, or anyone else seeking to deepen their knowledge and reflection.
And keep donating to organizations that are getting out and doing real work. Here’s a great list of 10 organizations worth supporting (via Very Well Mind), or another more comprehensive list of 174 Ways to Donate in Support of Black Lives and Communities of Color, which includes victims funds, bail funds, community organizations and more (via New York Magazine).
6. Order a lunch delivery for essential workers who have shifts during the holidays
There are a lot of people out there who give up their holiday to work so that the rest of us don’t have to. That includes nurses, firefighters, emergency responders, even some retail workers. Give back to the workers in your community by ordering a meal to have delivered to them by a local restaurant. It’s a great wya to support a business in your area, and show your appreciation for those essential workers.
7. Surprise a stranger by paying for their layaway
I think this is such a special gesture because it’s a totally anonymous way to completely brighten someone’s day, or even help make their holiday traditions possible during a time of struggle. You can always go to your local store and ask the employees about paying someone’s layaway balance off. Or you can donate to an organization like Pay Away the Layaway that works to help pay off balances for families around the country.
8. Support your furry friends through donations… or adoption?
It’s not just people who need love and support this time of year. You can also give back during the holiday season by donating to your local animal shelter. Another great idea is to turn it into a gift and donate to an organization like Red Rover, or the ASPCA on a friend or family member’s behalf. And If you’re feeling especially generous (and the circumstances allow), adopt a rescue pet and give a dog or cat a new loving home.
9. Host a (virtual) holiday party fundraiser
Holiday parties are a staple of the season, and it’s easy to turn that festivity into a force for good. Dedicate this year’s gathering to an organization close to your heart and ask your guests to donate what they can. You can also make it fun. Instead of a secret Santa gift exchange, turn it into an auction with the proceeds going to a local charity. Whip up a batch of sweet treats and have your guests do the same for a Christmas Cookie bake sale. You could also host a gift-wrap-a-thon and ask your neighbors, colleagues and friends to donate money in exchange for getting some of their gift wrapping taken care of.
Of course, in light of the pandemic, safety must come first. Keep your gatherings small, and in open spaces or outdoors if possible. If that’s not an option for you, keep the spirit up with a virtual holiday party instead! Make a festive playlist, have everyone dress up in their funkiest holiday sweaters, mix cocktails at home, and maybe even play some fun virtual holiday games, like Christmas Trivia. You might have to get a little creative to convert your fundraising activities to be zoom-friendly, but it can still be fun and meaningful. Some ideas I love from museumhack.com include:
- Write Christmas cards to send to senior citizens or soldiers
- Compete in virtual competitions like trivia and remote team building games, and let the winners pick the philanthropy to donate to
- Choose a child or family to play Santa to and shop together online for gifts
- Pay for teammates to complete holiday-themed dares, for instance, “I will give $5 if you dial the fifth number in your contact list and belt out Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,” or, “I’ll give $10 if you chug a glass of eggnog” and donate all proceeds to charity
- Participate in a charity-themed gift exchange where each participant makes a donation in another participant’s name
- Invite an artist connected with a philanthropy to provide entertainment at the party and set up a digital tip jar for donations. For instance, a visual artist may sketch caricatures of your guests, or an animal shelter may put on a virtual pet fashion show where cats don santa hats and pugs dress as elves.
- They’ve also got plenty of other ideas for hosting a fun virtual holiday party, so click the link above to check it out.
If you liked this post, I’d love to hear from you! Share this post on Facebook or Pinterest. And let me know in the comments the ways you’re giving back this year. 🙂