Every year at Christmas, our family looks for ways to practice generosity and selfless service. This year though, there have been so many causes suggested that our budget simply can’t reach out to all of them. However, a family tradition every year includes delivering fresh cookies to fire departments and police stations, and donating to local toy drives. We also contact the headquarters for Fred Meyer stores and purchase discounted blankets, socks, coats, sweaters and caps. Then we visit homeless shelters throughout Portland to deliver these items where they are most needed. But this year, I’ve wanted to do more and thought that perhaps you feel the same way as I do.
So with this in mind, here are some great ideas to bring the joy of Christmas to others in your community or around the world. Because that is what this special season is really about. Isn’t it?
- Follow our lead by visiting a homeless shelter or tent city and donate blankets, gloves, socks, hats, or coats. Each little item keeps someone warm and can help them survive those cold winter nights.
- If you don’t have the money or items to donate, simply visit with the folks at the local homeless shelter or tent city. Sometimes just feeling like you matter as a person can lift your spirit.
- Sponsor an angel from the Salvation Army angel tree. This can become a special tradition for your family every year by picking out the perfect gift requested on an angel tree card.
- If you’re unable to get out to a store to choose an individual angel from their trees around town, you can still donate to the Salvation Army online! A donation online is just like dropping money into those little red buckets. Our local Salvation Army is reportedly very short this year in their projected donations, so every little bit helps.
- Shopping Fair Trade for Christmas is a wonderful way to find unique and personal gifts for friends and loved ones and it helps support artisans in developing nations. This is a win-win for everyone.
- One Warm Coat is a national organization dedicated to making sure everyone who needs a warm coat this year gets one. It breaks my heart thinking that someone out there who needs a coat doesn’t have one, and this really shouldn’t be happening in our country. If you follow the link I’ve provided, you can click on the map on the right and then find a coat drive in your area. I checked, and sure enough, there is one in our area!
- One of my favorite organizations this time of year is Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. If you’re unfamiliar with this project, their website offers all the information you need to help. Briefly, Operation Christmas Child sends specially created care packages to children all over the world who need the most basic items as well as some personal gifts to really light up their world. Unfortunately, the national send-off week has passed, but you can still donate to the amazing cause at Samaritan’s Purse on their website. I want to make it a family tradition starting next year to pack a box together for a child who needs it.
- Participate in Operation Give, which sends 10,000 stockings to soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. While, unfortunately, the deadline for stockings and stocking stuffers has passed, they are still in a great need for monetary donations right now to pay for shipping charges to actually get these stockings to the troops.
- Another opportunity to support to our troops is through our USO program. The USO serves our troops year round, not just at Christmastime. They are always in need of support. You can donate at the link provided. Any online donations to such causes could be a thoughtful gift given in the name of others, such as neighbors or coworkers. It could be included in a card that a donation was made in their name to one of these wonderful programs.
- If you’re a pet lover, often local animal shelters hold food or toy drives for the animals housed there during Christmastime. These shelters tend to see an influx of new animals when the weather turns cold, because people are more inclined to drop off a stray for fear of them not surviving the cold. Shelters rely on such food donations well into the new year to care for the animals that wander their way. It would be a wonderful way to teach children to care for God’s creatures by buying cat food or dog food and dropping it off at your local animal shelter this Christmas.
- If you have a particular talent that you could share with others, now would be a great time to volunteer at a local children’s hospital or nursing home. If you play an instrument or sing, you could bring Christmas carols to the elderly or bedridden. If you have a knack for sewing, you could make a lap quilt for a child in the hospital.
- You could also participate in Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets to children who are terminally ill or have been traumatized, or who could otherwise just use a warm blanket around them. You can participate by donating a handmade blanket to a nearby Project Linus chapter, or by donating online to help pay for shipping and material costs.
- Ask around in your community, work, or church to see if there is a family with a particular need that you might fulfill. Perhaps there’s an elderly woman who just needs help keeping her driveway shoveled this year. Perhaps it’s a family who otherwise won’t have groceries this month. Whether it’s things or service, there is bound to be someone near you who could use some help, and there is bound to be some way you can help them.
- Shop local. Look for locally owned mom and pop stores to shop from rather than purchasing all of your gifts from large chain companies this year. Shopping at local stores puts money back in your own community and supports families just like yours who are trying to make it this holiday season. You could buy gifts from the local bookstore down the street or shop for your Christmas dinner groceries at the family-owned grocery store in town rather than the large surplus store.
- Donate time, money, or food to the local food bank. Food banks always run low this time of year, and their staff is always stretched thin. Consider making it a family tradition to volunteer one Saturday before Christmas at your local food bank. You can hand out, sort, organize or prepare food for families.
- Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. The cold weather sends people inside more than other times of year, and it seems harder this time of year for people in need to find a warm meal. Of course our current national economic state doesn’t help either. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen can be a great bonding experience for your family, and can give you a chance to make friends with those less fortunate in our community.
- Bake cookies or other yummy goodies for your local firemen, police officers, EMT service providers, or teachers. Public service men and women don’t make a lot of money, but they do a ton of hard work in our communities. It would be a blessing to let them know how appreciated they are by dropping by this year with some baked goods and a smile.
- Make up coupons for your next door neighbors that give them one free law mowing, leaf raking, or car washing when the weather clears up. You could slip it in with a plate of cookies. It fosters a sense of community, allows you to get to know your neighbors, and shows them that you are willing to serve them as friends.
- Practice random acts of kindness by buying the lunch for someone in line with you at the local fast food restaurant. I’ve done this before, and I love both the reaction of the person at the window when I tell them what I’m doing and the reaction of the person behind me when they realize their meal is free.
- Donate to the cause of your choice on behalf of someone else. If a loved one has suffered from Breast Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or any other ailment, you can make a loving donation in the name of a friend or family member that supports a cause close to your heart. Many people appreciate these kind of gifts instead of little trinkets that will break or be lost quickly after the season.
It doesn’t take much to bless the lives of others, and this is the perfect time of year to make someone’s day and life magical in more ways than you can ever imagine. So bring your family and friends together this month and find ways to participate in the joy of giving. The warmth you will feel inside your heart will be the greatest gift you will ever receive.
Blessings to you and yours,