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.

My family at last year’s Christmas in Charleston

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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!



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  1. Our family tradition is to go out to breakfast on Christmas and leave the server a $100 tip! We try to get out before they see it. Such pleasure! If someone works a breakfast shift on Christmas, they need the money!

  2. One place that really benefits from monetary donations more than anywhere else is a local food bank – local food banks can do more with a dollar than anywhere else! I know people are inclined to donate non perishables there but they often have deals with local restaurants/grocery stores to receive x% off of fresh produce and meat and the $5 you spend on canned goods for them can be stretched even more if the food bank receives the $5 instead 🙂

  3. I saw you mentioned the ABC program in another post – we had one at my high school too. What a wonderful role your parents must play in these kids’ lives. Amazing.

  4. I love this post! With nastiness so commonplace, it’s more important than ever to show kindness and love to all of those around.

    Some of my favorite options:
    Get a group together and cook a meal at the local Ronald McDonald House.
    Donate dvds to a veterans home.
    Sign up for a shift sorting food at a local food pantry.
    Donate food to a local animal shelter.

  5. Give food to the local food bank– ideally not at this time, but perhaps closer to summer (less donations then). Also, there are a lot of colleges out there that have local food pantries for students who may be food or housing insecure and are often extremely grateful for donations.

  6. Such a great post! This year my heart has been so heavy with the refugee crisis and something the need just feels overwhelming. I love these concrete steps to make a difference in your community!