Five Free/ Cheap Ways to Give this Holiday Season

Every year, when the holidays roll around, I find myself caught up in a number of feelings.  First, I feel excitement at remembering the joy of the season, the delight of making hand-crafted gifts, the rush of giving thoughtful presents and presence, and the excitement of remembering my favorite songs, foods, and traditions.  I also feel compelled to do something more–something that will benefit people and/or creatures outside of my home, my family, my network.

MM Five Free Cheap Ways to Give this Holiday Season

Being the wife of a former fire fighter, who had approximately three holidays at home in the last five years, I begin to think about people who don’t have the opportunity to spend their holiday with loved ones.  Whether it’s because of work schedules or distance or ancient grudges, many people will be family-less this winter season.

With this in mind, I wanted to put together a quick list of five free or cheap things you and your family can do to give to those in need this holiday season.

1. Volunteer your time to serve

This may be almost too obvious to mention, but though we think of volunteering as serving food in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, volunteering can include much more.  For example, instead of serve food (which is a fabulous cause, if available and something you feel called to do), you can try any of the following:

  • an event — does your community hold a parade/ party/ craft fair/ concert?  you can volunteer your time to ensure it goes off without a hitch!
  • decorate — your community center/ church/ high school/ neighbor may need a little help getting festive
  • read to or with kids or older adults — contact your local library/ community center/ church/ retirement home or see below
  • sing, play music — you can go alone or with a group, in normal clothes or dressed up, singing old school hymns or modern classics — the choice is yours!

2. Send Letters & Cards (&/or Food*) to people who work or are likely alone this holiday season

Write a hand-written letter or send a hand-made card — you can do this for any/ all of the following: service people overseas, police officers, fire fighters, homeless people, elderly people, orphans, emergency doctors and nurses, tow truck drivers — just going out of your way to say “thank you” or wish someone happiness and joy makes a difference.

Danny has, in fact, received a beautiful, sincere, and thoughtful hand-crafted construction paper card from a boy before — and he still has it.  The boy, Jay, said, “Thank you for helping the people on the world” and drew a fantastic picture.

The following are resources to make this easier:

  • if you’re interested in sending hand-written love to our service men and women in the armed forces, see this incredibly comprehensive resource:
    Operation We Are Here
  • for all local public servants, you can bring or send the cards directly to the station, facility, or hospital
    just Google “local fire/ police station/ hospital/ nursing home” to find the locations nearest to you
  • Compassion International has a letter writing project to correspond with children as pen pals
  • More Love Letters pairs letter writers with letter requests to spread love between humans — every occasion is represented from college finals to letters from encouraging strangers to letters left for people to find
    • If you’re interested, read the story behind More Love Letters here.
  • Also, I recently saw this post on FB about an eight year old girl who was the only survivor of a fire three years ago.  She loves Christmas cards and for anyone interested in sending one to her, an address is in the link.

3. Give Food {canned goods, money directly to a food-based charity, a dollar when you check out at the grocery store, your leftovers} to someone in need

If you’re thinking of donating food this holiday season, be sure to see the following resources for guidelines and reminders:

  • Feeding America gives the following guidelines regarding (canned) food donations.
    • There are some objections to can drives, however.  If you’re interested in hearing the logic behind “canning can drives,” read this 2011 article (excerpted quote below):

      “Find well-managed charities in your community and trust them to know how to do their job. They have access to food at a fraction of the price. They know their clients, and they have better things to do than to sort through your canned goods. And from your perspective, it’s much easier to document a monetary donation for tax purposes. Good intentions are lovely, but particularly in hard times it’s more important to make sure your charitable dollars go as far as possible. Can the cans. Hand over some cash.”

  • Check-out Charity: give at the grocery store — this is one of the easiest ways to donate to charity — you know that question you get most times you check out at the grocery store, “Would you like to donate $__ to _____ charity today?”  If it works for you, perfect!
    • But, if you’re not sure you like this sort of charity fundraising, you’re not alone.  Take a look at this 2014 article and remember, it’s OK to say, “Not today.”  It doesn’t make you a bad person!
  • Donate cash directly to a food charity, as suggested in this 2013 article:

    “‘We encourage people to be more thoughtful, do some research and find out what the charity is accomplishing,’ said Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch based in Chicago. To better assure that your money is going to the right place, Borochoff recommends giving to a charity directly. Donating through a retailer runs the risk of the money getting lost or diverted. Consumers don’t get the tax deduction and have no idea when the donation actually gets to the charity.”

  • Give leftovers directly to someone in need — If you’re leaving a restaurant with leftovers, package them up and give them to a homeless person. We did this Thanksgiving week, leaving an outrageously delicious middle eastern restaurant with my visiting family.  The man who got these leftovers was delighted and it made us happy, too!
  • Or, as mentioned in #2 above, you can give food (even homemade!) to service people while they work over the holiday
    • In terms of giving food as a “Thank you!”– you know how much I love food! — last year, when visiting Buffalo for Christmas, Danny and I made {relatively healthy} cookies and brought them up to the local fire station.  The fire fighters were delighted. In the past, we’ve brought treats like organic apples and bags of pistachios up (to counter all of the sweet and decadent treats they receive).
    • And I read a news piece from last year {like this one} about NFL star J.J. Watt sending pizzas to public servants to show his appreciation for all that they do.  You don’t have to buy thousands of dollars worth of za to show you care; anything you give with demonstrate thought and care.

4. Craft for a Cause

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother has spent months throughout the year knitting matching hat and mitten combos for children in need in the city of Buffalo, New York.  This is a fantastic way to give back to the community and do something enjoyable, relaxing, and fulfilling.

Here are a few ideas on how to make it happen this winter season:

5. Support local efforts

Supporting a local cause helps to keep money and resources in your community.  There are many ways to do this.  Beyond volunteering your time, if you want to support local causes, here are a few options:

  • Create the Good is a website that coordinates volunteers, craft projects, and articles and ideas to help inspire and connect people who want to do good in their own community
  • Use Amazon Smile to donate to your favorite cause through Amazon, at no charge to you (see this page for FAQs) — my spiritual center has an account through which I can donate; find your favorite charity or cause!
  • One new, local (Boulder, CO) charity/ educational organization I found and want to support is Be Zero — the founder educates people on living a zero waste life — AMAZING!
  • This year, we bought holiday greeting cards from Goodwill Denver, an organization Danny and I love and support.  The front of each is a seasonal drawing.

This holiday season, make sure you take time to be thankful for the abundance in your life.  Part of this gratitude is sharing the love.  Pick one way to do so and see how great it feels!

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