The holiday season is a time for gratitude, celebration, and reflection. This season of giving is also a perfect time to find ways to volunteer and donate your time and talents to help others.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to do so. As we approach a very unusual holiday season, here are some ways you can share your gratitude and generosity with others in creative and safe ways.
Say “thanks.” The holiday season often reminds us of all for which we’re grateful. So, why not say so? Take some time to think about all of the people who have helped you or who make your life better. Then, write them a thank-you note. Your list might include parents, grandparents, other relatives, or friends. Perhaps you have a mentor or co-worker who has helped you in your career.
You may want to think more broadly, too. Is your congressperson or are local officials doing a great job for your community? Drop them a note. Or you might even thank the owner of a local business who goes above and beyond for your community. There are so many people who contribute to our daily lives, and this is a great time to tell them they are appreciated. If you want to make it public, write your thank-you as a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.
Mail some holiday cheer. Organizations like Cards for Hospitalized Kids and Stay Gold have programs with guidelines. Or you can simply call local hospitals, nursing homes, or veterans groups to find out how you can send cards to people who need a holiday pick-me-up. Not feeling crafty? You can also write letters through Love for Our Elders’ Letters of Love program. A heartfelt thank you can warm hearts around the globe when you draft a letter to veterans through Operation Gratitude. They even include a guide to make letter writing a snap.
Clean up. If the local turkey trot 5K race isn’t your idea of a good time, then organize a socially distanced walk around town. Wear masks and bring a kitchen garbage bag and a set of gloves to pick up trash along the way. If you’re feeling really inspired, you can organize a virtual neighborhood cleanup. Families can choose different areas and maintain social distance, then share their work online. You can help garner interest for your event by publishing it in your local paper or online community forum.
Lend an ear—or text. While some revel in the joy of the holidays, it’s also a difficult time for many others. They may be suffering from loneliness, isolation, or grief. You can help by becoming a trained volunteer who can listen and help provide comfort. Organizations like 7 Cups, Crisis Text Line, and your local crisis center allow you to offer support for people who are struggling with difficult emotions or depression during this season. Volunteers are trained in active listening and crisis response. Each organization has its own training requirements, some up to 30 hours to ensure you’re prepared.
Foster a pet. Do you love dogs, but aren’t sure if you’re ready for the commitment? Or maybe you want to teach children the responsibilities that come with owning pet. Fostering a pet is a great way to spread the love this season. Reach out to local animal shelters and rescues to find out their requirements for fostering. Don’t know where your local shelter is? Visit The Shelter Pet Project to find one. You may need to fill out an application, and some organizations may want to do an interview or otherwise verify that the pet will be safe.
Be a friend. If you know someone who has lost a loved one or who doesn’t have nearby friends and family, stay connected. While it might not be possible to invite them to your gatherings now, use phone calls and videoconferences to remain in touch. Your presence and friendship may be just the thing they need to keep the loneliness and sadness at bay. Be there when they need you, but know that they may need to be alone sometimes, too. You can also volunteer to connect with seniors via phone or videoconference through Family Eldercare’s Lifetime Connections without Walls program.
Spread the warmth. Heating and utility costs during winter months can climb quickly. Is there someone you know who’s short on cash? A family in the neighborhood going through a tough time? Call the electric company and anonymously pay their gas or electric bill for the month.
Alternatively, if you have a knack for knitting, create and donate a blanket or two to Project Linus to support children in need. You can donate 7x9-inch, crocheted and knitted rectangles to be joined and assembled into afghan blankets. Warm the heads and hearts of cancer patients by knitting and delivering a handmade cap. Also, as the weather gets colder, consider doing a virtual coat drive, using social media to encourage friends and neighbors to drop off their gently used coats at a local nonprofit that helps low-income or homeless people.
Adopt a family. Families that have experienced job loss or financial hardship this year may not have the funds to celebrate the holidays. Contact your local church, food pantry, or other community groups to find out if you can help purchase meals or holiday gifts for families in need. Some organizations have “giving trees” where children hang their requests like ornaments, and volunteers pledge to fulfill those requests. You may also contact your local Toys for Tots or Salvation Army branch. Or choose to adopt the family of a deployed member of the military this holiday season.
There are many ways to safely share good will and make someone’s holiday season a little happier. With some creativity and communication with nonprofit groups and others, you can find meaningful ways to celebrate the generous spirit of the season.
Volunteers are needed all year. Once the holiday season is over, search for even more volunteer opportunities here.