My parents are two of the most generous people I know. From the time we were young children, they taught my siblings and me the importance of giving back, particularly during the holiday season, and have long led by example in that regard. My mom went back to school over a decade ago to transition from a career in fashion to working as a registered nurse, and just last year my dad made his own career change from working as a mortgage broker to teaching high school math. After raising four kids of their own and in addition to managing the aforementioned new careers, my parents are now also the resident directors for a program called A Better Chance in our hometown, where they now care for seven academically talented minority young women who will graduate from the same high school my siblings and I did. I really need to do a dedicated blog post about what this program has come to mean to our family (we truly feel like we have seven new siblings!) but for today I’ll just say that I’ll forever be inspired by my parents’ example of generosity and selflessness. And so today I want to take a break from the Christmas decorations and gift guides to share a few of my family’s favorite ways to give back during the holidays.
- Bring baked goods to a homeless or women’s shelter on Christmas Eve. This is a family tradition my parents started maybe twenty years ago and always a feel-good way to kick off our Christmas celebrations. We’ll spend a few hours baking a variety of sweet treats and then head to a nearby shelter to pass them out and wish everyone a merry Christmas. It’s a small and inexpensive gesture, but I think it’s always meaningful to let people know someone’s thinking of them this time of year.
- Visit a local hospital and sing Christmas carols. When my mom worked as an oncology nurse in a hospital, we would visit patients on her floor and take requests for holiday songs they wanted to hear. While we’re not exactly the best singers, it always put a smile on the patients’ faces, especially for those spending the holiday on their own, and was a fun surprise for the nurses and doctors who were sacrificing the holiday to care for those in need. Definitely call ahead to make sure your hospital is accepting visitors!
- Wrap warm winter accessories and give to someone in need. There was a homeless man who would stand at one of the highway exits near our house growing up and every Christmas we would wrap up a hat and gloves and pull over in my mom’s minivan to deliver them to him. To see his joy in unwrapping a present and his gratitude for having a new pair of gloves made an impression on me that I still remember all these years later. It’s true that giving to others is often the greatest gift you can give yourself.
- Donate items you no longer use or wear to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. There are so many families looking for ways to keep warm in the winter and it makes me happy to think about someone getting a ton of use out of something I never seem to reach for. If you’re on the fence because you still like a particular item, ask yourself if someone else might really love it. Particularly after our recent move, this question has helped me fill up many a box this holiday season!
- Make a donation to a cause you believe in. If you’re short on time this holiday season, consider making a monetary donation to a charity you support or to a disaster relief fund. Making a donation in someone’s name is also a wonderful gift idea for someone you’re struggling to buy for!
What are your favorite ways to give back during the holidays (or year-round)? I’d love to hear your thoughts!