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CONVERGE | Community

6 Ways to Give Back Over the Holidays

December 17, 2019

Here are six easy and fulfilling ways to spread some holiday cheer.

Ah, the holidays. A celebratory time of year filled with all kinds of traditions. Festive meals, gifts and family time are generally on the docket, but what about gratitude? That's right, “the most wonderful time of the year" provides an excellent opportunity to show your appreciation for others. Giving back to your community is part of the holiday spirit, and helping those in need can be an incredibly rewarding tradition to start with your friends or family. Here are six ways to give back over the holidays:

1. Serve a Warm Meal

It may be hard to believe, but one in nine people struggle with hunger in the United States. Food pantries and homeless shelters tend to be understaffed and rely largely on volunteers, so why not roll up your sleeves and get cooking? Wheels for Wishes is a useful website that can locate your local soup kitchen. Or check out FeedingAmerica.orgfor specific volunteer opportunities. Keep in mind that there's always an increase in volunteers on major holidays, so consider helping out a few days after Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or better yet, volunteer once a month for a year-round tradition!

2. Take Your Pup to a Senior Center

Did you know that spending time with a pet can help lower cholesterol, fight depression and improve socialization? These are just a few of the ways Animal Assisted Interactions (AAI) can benefit the elderly. If you have a friendly pet, consider volunteering their time to a senior center. Pets On Wheels brings therapy animals to elderly homes across the state of Maryland, and the SFSPCA has a great program in San Francisco. If you can't find a local organization, check with your community's department of human resources. They may have a list of senior citizen volunteer opportunities, including AAI.

3. Give Charitable Gift Cards

Sometimes the holidays get so busy that it's hard to find the time to volunteer. That's where charitable gift cards come in handy—they're super thoughtful and take mere minutes to purchase. It's simple: you buy the card online and the recipient gets to donate the value to the charity of his or her choice. TisBest is a great option with a wide variety of charities to choose from, or check out Charity On Top, which has an easy-to-use website and allows you to customize your card for free!

4. Bake a Little Bit Extra

Giving back to your community doesn't have to be a whole big to-do. Small gestures are also appreciated, like bringing homemade cookies to your friends and neighbors. When you're making your holiday desserts this season, consider baking extra batches. Hand out baked goods to your local fire department or police station, or host your own bake sale and donate the proceeds. You can register your bake sale with No Kid Hungry, which provides meals to kids in need across the country.

5. Give Blood, if You're Able

Blood is in high demand; it literally saves lives, and it cannot be manufactured so hospitals rely solely on donations. However, only about 37% of people in the US are eligible to donate blood, and less than 10% of that subset actually do. Your blood can help accident victims, patients with cancer or hemophilia, and so much more. See if you fit the eligibility requirements, then use the Red Cross website to find a local blood drive. You can also check with your local hospitals and medical research facilities to see if they're taking donations. 

6. Clean Out Your Closets

You don't have to wait for spring cleaning to get organized; the holidays are a perfect time to take inventory and get rid of those cargo shorts that have been taking up real estate in your dresser since 2004. Marie Kondo suggests starting in one room; go through your belongings and “discard everything that does not spark joy." Having a space free of clutter can really help to put things in perspective, not to mention make room for new items that may better serve you. And of course, your discarded belongings can really help those in need. Find your local Goodwill to drop off your donations, or if you don't have time, check out Pickup Please, a donation pick-up service that benefits US Veterans.

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