I’d like to think I am a good person. I donate canned food when possible and I always put money into the Salvation Army bucket when I hear that bell echoing through the frigid cold. But it wasn’t until a few days ago that I realized I had my priorities all wrong.
It was Black Friday and I was frantically in pursuit of the hottest door-busters and deals. As I hurried out one store, on my way to the next, I noticed a woman and her son struggling with the weight of many cumbersome packages. It was clear they had no car and were attempting to walk home. I had the pressing thought,
“You should help.”
But those red-hot Razor scooters will be gone, I justified to myself. What if they are dangerous people… The list of excuses went on and on in my head until I got in my car and drove away.
I missed a very important opportunity to help someone out and I am still kicking myself for it. One of my 2014 resolutions is to look for opportunities to help and exhibit the courage it takes to do them. I posed the question on the HowDoesShe Facebook page: How do you help others this holiday season, or how have you been helped? I was inspired by the responses. The quotes were so good, I had to include a few (don’t worry, they are anonymous).
Here are 21 ways you can be someone’s ray of hope and good cheer in 2014 and beyond!
1. Visit those who are lonely.
Some of the best gifts aren’t “things.” A cheery visit to someone who lives alone may be just the nourishment they need. Take your family caroling at an assisted living facility. Visit a neighbor or family member who lives alone. Save your children’s artwork to take as a small gift to brighten their day.
“We like doing Santa for seniors each year. We sign up to give a senior items they want or need. I found it very heartwarming myself to know that we can help seniors and not just kids during this time.”
“Find a senior apartment like I live in. The people setting around love getting cookies and candy brought in, even me! ”
2. Spontaneous acts of kindness.
Some of the best moments of service aren’t planned. Giving doesn’t need to be so devised; every moment that you are out in the world is a chance to help.
“We love paying it back at Dunkin’ Donuts where we will buy a coffee for the person behind us. The kids love spontaneous kindness to others. It is always unexpected so the surprise combined with generosity always makes them giddy and excited. They really, really remember these moments too! These are little things that we try to do all year round.”
3. Be sneaky about it!
There’s something so fun and exhilarating about giving on the sly. Turn it into a family affair and you’ll be hooked!
“We give whatever we can, whenever we can, and without needing to discuss it; it just rubs off on the kids. One thing that we do stress is that we do it anonymously whenever possible, because the reward is in making someone feel good…not in getting credit for it. Around the holidays, we make a game of it…each person in our family must do something nice for a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger. If they have their own money, and opt to give it or use it to buy something for someone, that is their choice, but we’ve really tried to teach them that it’s not always about a physical ‘thing’. A kind gesture goes a long way too!”
Some “Sneaky” ideas to try:
- leave groceries on someone’s doorstep (who wouldn’t love opening their door to this surprise?)
- adopt a secret friend at school or a secret neighbor to serve or give gifts anonymously
- shovel a neighbor’s driveway or rake their leaves
- pay for a stranger’s dinner at a restaurant
- leave a goodie basket on someone’s door
- leave a kind note
- slip a $5 bill in a coat pocket
4. Operation Christmas Child and Just Serve
Operation Christmas Child invites your family to pack a shoebox full of gifts for children in need all around the world. Your children will love playing an active part in making another child’s Christmas brighter. You can even track the destination of your box! *Note that the shoebox collection week occurs in November, but you can still build a shoebox online! You can also send completed boxes year-round to their headquarters here.
Have you checked out Justserve.org before? It is the coolest way to find local opportunities in your area to help. My son and his friends went around our neighborhood collecting granola bars for a local school to give out as snacks to kids who aren’t able to bring a snack from home. Go see what opportunities are available in your area!
5. Give what you can.
Your gifts do not need to be elaborate, or expensive. You can have a charitable heart even if you don’t have a lot yourself.
“We try to find “giving trees” at Christmas where they can choose someone their age to get something for them. It’s hard because we don’t really have any extra (and haven’t for years) but we can usually afford a $5 toy or something else requested like socks or tights.”
6. Adopt a family.
It’s fun to adopt a family at Christmas time and deliver presents for them to open on Christmas day, but what if you kept that same family in your thoughts year round? Maybe your garden is over-flowing and you drop off some fresh produce for them in the summer. Or maybe you notice their gate could use some grease. Go the extra mile to help others who may be just down the road from you.
7. Toys for Tots.
Those big bins are in nearly every store, begging to be filled. Let your kids in on the fun by picking out a toy next time you’re grabbing a few things. Let them know that they are helping make another little boy or girl very happy.
8. Encourage paying it forward.
“My kids are older and we give them cash at holiday time that they have to pay forward, no restrictions except that they cannot benefit from it themselves. Maybe they buy something for someone in need or pay for someone’s groceries. [We wait until] Valentine’s day when we get together and share how we all disbursed the money.”
9. Seek out individuals to help through your local schools.
Principals, teachers, and counselors are aware of students that could use a little assistance. Adopt an individual in your local school district that could use a little TLC.
“We are Secret Santa to a child in need in our school district. It is completely confidential. We never know who the gifts go to, but we get some information on gender, clothing size and some general likes/interests. Our kids (7 and 4) really enjoy picking things out for this person and love the idea that he/she will have some nice surprises on Christmas Day! ”
10. Find individuals to help through local churches.
The church leaders of many congregations know of those families and individuals within their parishes that could use some help. Go through a local church to locate those in need and ask how you can best serve them.
11. Look on Craigslist
“About 4 years ago, we were struggling financially. I realized one month that we would have to choose between paying bills and buying food. It was heartbreaking. So I prayed and decided to ask for help on Craigslist. Two total strangers donated food to our family that lasted 3 months!! It was such a blessing, and I will never forget it. There really is still so much good in the world.”
12. Remember the “unsung heroes.”
Your mail person, garbage man, librarian, your favorite store checker…a lot of times we forget the people who are serving us every day! Do something to show that you recognize and appreciate all their hard work.
“I try to give to our “unsung heroes.” The kids will run cold drinks/water out to the garbage men, little gifts to the school bus drivers, etc.”
“Every year my family bakes goodies for the local police and fire departments.”
13. Give the gift of family time.
I like this particular suggestion that I would never normally think of. It’s a great thing to keep in mind when giving gifts this season.
“One thing that I really appreciated while my husband was a student was when an anonymous person gave our family gift certificates for a movie. We hadn’t been able to do a family activity like that for a long, long time. I’d buy gift cards for an activity that a family wouldn’t normally be able to do. ”
14. Remember our veterans.
Don’t forget about the veterans and families of veterans that may be alone for the holidays. A little care package would be a great way to say thank-you for their service.
15. Teach your children to give.
One of the best ways to teach generosity is by starting with your own little family.
“We have our daughter make gifts for our family members so she can see how her actions impact other people. She has to stop and think about the other person for bit before making them something. That was a huge lesson for her at age 3! ”
“One of the neatest things they have done on their own is have friends over to play, find out which of their toys their friends liked the most, and surprise them later by giving them the toys (only if they are not played with often in our home anymore). ”
16. Helping the homeless.
“We give back during the holiday by packing back packs for the homeless with clothing items, toiletries, and food. It comes with a sleeping bag as well. So far, since last month, we have given out 12 and have ten more we are packing now…we love doing it. ”
“My kids are still young, but when they are old enough, I’d love to make it a family tradition to serve at a soup kitchen or pack lunch bags and deliver to the homeless. From experience, you’ll make a bigger impact and acts of kindness become more meaningful if you work with the people directly and get to meet those you are helping. ”
17. Sponsor an international child.
Organizations like http://www.compassion.com, Kids Hope Ethiopia, Canadian Humanitarian or http://www.worldvision.org make it possible to sponsor children around the world. Check them out if that seems like a way you could help.
18. Turn every occasion into a giving opportunity.
Giving back doesn’t have to be something we just do at holiday times. With a heart turned towards service, you can turn any party into a giving party!
“We use birthdays as a giving opportunity and turn the parties into service projects. Once we had a fairy party where they went on a scavenger hunt for everything to make up a school kit bag, another time they stuffed and filled teddy bears and bean bag frogs to donate to a children’s hospital, easy stuff like that.”
19. Find someone online to assist.
A HDS Facebook reader brought this one to my attention and I thought it was pretty cool. Just use your judgement.
www.2hands.org is sort of like Craigslist for people in need. They can post a need they would like assistance with (like Christmas gifts, clothing for children, etc.) and you can choose where/how you would like to help. Select your state and start browsing. Beware however, of the usual scams like emails asking you to wire money or send a money order. Those are always scams. Use your discretion, but this may be a great way to help.
20. Give up something in order to give.
“Instead of the siblings (who are all now married with kids) giving gifts to each other, we pick a charity (usually the homeless shelter or sub for Santa) and buy items to donate. Then we all go donate them together. Truly gets you in the holiday spirit and makes you remember what’s important. ”
“We purchase a grocery order for a family through our church. I could just pay for it myself but we want the kids to be involved somehow so we are giving up our Friday night pizza nights this month to cover the cost.”
21. TAKE ACTION!
Don’t let excuses thwart you from helping another. When in doubt, if it will help another and you feel safe doing so, JUST DO IT!
It’s so easy to become so wrapped up in ourselves at this time of year, with all the presents to buy, parties to attend, and preparations to be made. Just imagine if we all chose one item from this list to put into action. Of course the world, or at least our little corner of it, would be that much more beautiful. Please feel free to share any other great ideas of how to help others or how you have been helped. Happy holidays!