Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Holiday Helper Ideas

For those who are able, it might be time to consider how you could help someone in need this holiday season. With so many festivities coming up in just a few short weeks, here are some ideas for things you can do to reach out and make a difference in your community. After all, giving is better than receiving!

- Angel trees. This is a common suggestion, but many people find great joy in looking over trees that are set up in churches, stores, and malls to get ideas for who they can help and how. It is a direct way to get something in the right size, color, or preference to a child who may not have an opportunity to have anything else.

- Donate winter wear. Contact your local schools, churches, or other community resources and ask if there is a donation set up for gently used winter clothing. Boots you have outgrown, winter jackets and snow pants, extra mittens or hats, or even long johns for layering can mean the world to someone who would otherwise be braving the chill without adequate comfort. You can clear out your closets, too!

- Winter break food assistance. Reach out to the schools near you and ask if they do anything to help needy families with food during the long winter break. Many children eat two meals per day at school for free and sometimes their families do not have the money to provide for them when school is out. Your school might have warm meals or lunches for these children, and would love a helping hand. If there is no program where you live, offer to set up a drop box at the school and print flyers for students to bring home. Ask your local food pantry for brochures and posters that you can post in the community, or create some using their location, methods of transportation, hours, etc. Sharing these in a public location will help people in the long term.

- Donate stocking stuffers. Many families struggle to keep the magic alive during the holiday season and need a little help making sure that their children get the whole experience. Even the odds and ends can add up to be more than expected. A low-cost visit to a dollar store or a sales section of a popular retailer can provide you with many stocking stuffers that you can donate to those in need.

- Volunteer at a food cupboard or soup kitchen. This one is great for the whole family! Gather up your loved ones and make giving back a tradition. It will be rewarding to talk to your children about the difference they made in the lives of those who need them most, and you will find joy in seeing the satisfaction of others. Best of all, if you can't afford to give money, you can give your time. You may even find this is something you'll want to do more than once a year.

- Adopt a classroom. Many teachers are running out of the items they need to run a successful classroom safely through the winter. Instead of expecting them to pay out of pocket, ask a teacher what they need. Or, make up a gift basket- almost all teachers agree they need simple items like tissues, hand sanitizers, paper towels, dry erase markers, pencils, and snacks for children who may forget them or simply not have them. It can be difficult for parents to pitch in and help, so alleviate some of their stress and help everyone!

- Collect your change. Set out a jar to collect spare change and commit to donating it every year. While it may be a bit late to collect much this year, you can start now and see how much you make in a year. Won't it be fun to see how the money you don't pay attention to makes a difference next year?

- Call your church. Ask them if they are doing anything for anyone for Christmas, and how you can help. If they aren't, mention one or any of the ideas above, or share one of your own. Most community churches love inspiration and community outreach and will be excited to hear from you!

- Help your neighbors hang their lights or set up their tree. This is especially wonderful if you have elderly folks in your area who cannot do it themselves. Many people would love a little holiday cheer, not to mention a friendly visit. If anyone accepts your offer, bring over coffee or cookies and take time to reconnect.

- Make cards for the nursing home. Nothing is more rewarding than teaching a child to give to others, especially those who are grateful and enjoy their presence. A nursing home is a wonderful place to meet new people with incredible life stories. Many people in nursing homes are eager for your time and attention, and enjoy seeing cute kids and their artwork. Even those who are not up for a visit will be happy to know someone was thinking of them, and nurses are touched and happy to deliver adorable cards and notes. Take a weekend to create and then deliver your creations. Make sure you have plenty of time to spend there without rushing.

- Swap babysitting. Holidays are stressful times for everyone. Exchange an evening of babysitting with a friend or family member to keep the happiness flowing in the home. We all need a little time away, and most parents neglect themselves when money is tight. Giving someone alone time to go on a date, or even do something like grocery or gift shopping, helps keep relationships happy.

- Pay toward heating oil for a family in need. If you have the means, offering money to a heating oil company and asking them to apply it to an account of someone in need is a wonderful idea. If you don't know of anyone in need, ask your church or school if they can make the connection for you. There are many ways to keep the information private and still get your help passed along!

- Cut back where you can. Part of giving back is making sure you're feeling good about the experience of the holidays. You will be doing everyone a favor if you do not overextend yourself, personally and financially! Do not try to make every event, buy the top of the line items if you can't afford them, and take on too many projects at once. Prioritize, and carve out time to make sure you are enjoying your friends and family.

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