Tis’ the season to start giving back. Whether it is the time of year, or the current political climate, I have noticed a lot of people posting questions about charity work. Some people are looking for ways to help their community and maybe involve their children in giving back. Over the last nine years, I’ve been lucky enough to have some great volunteer opportunities, so I thought that I would share a few things that I have learned along the way.
Food Drives: This might be the easiest way to help out, but there are a few things that people don’t always think about when they are donating.
1: Check the expiration dates. Grandma passed away and you don’t want to toss out her whole pantry? I get it. However, a lot of food banks have to pay to have expired food hauled away. I worked at a food bank for a couple of seasons and we had a contest to find the oldest can. Whole potatoes from 1981 was the big winner. Ick.
2: It isn’t just about cans. Remember, most of this food is going to families with kiddos. They need stuff like snack food for lunches, PB&J, pastas, breakfast cereal, and baby food.
3. Having an Ugly Sweater party? Ask guests to bring a nonperishable food item. (You can make fun of their outfit AFTER they donate.)
4: What is it with green beans? This isn’t a tip so much as a question. After building the take home boxes for families, we were always left with tons of green beans. People love donating green beans. I’m not saying that it’s not great, but I have always wondered why. Peas just don’t get the love that they used to. So… give peas a chance. (Sorry, I had to.)
Toy Drives: This is probably the most fun way to give during the holiday season. You get to shop for toys! OMG, My Little Ponies!!!! While ponies, dolls, and monster trucks are great, a lot of times the big kids get left out. The tables for kids ages 4 to about 9 are always pretty full in comparison to the 10 and up. Don’t know what to get for older kids? Consider the following:
Manicure kits, art supplies, Razor scooters, ear buds, backpacks, and sport equipment. Or you could ask a tween what is on their list. Hopefully it isn’t just eyerolls and sarcasm.
A little side note here… I was told by a volunteer at one toy drive that they always need dolls of ALL ethnicities. Please consider that on your shopping trip!
Homelessness: Being cold sucks. Being cold while living on the streets sucks on a whole new level. There are a lot of ways to help your fellow humans this winter.
1: Care Bags: Fill large Ziplock bags with such items as snacks, cough drops, clean socks, toiletries, bandages, fast food gift cards, plastic ponchos, and handwarmers. Keep these in your car to give out when you see a person in need.
2: Consider volunteering after December: Homelessness does not end when the holidays do. Shelter volunteers tend to dwindle after Christmas, but they are still needed.
3. Look online for local shelters. If they don’t have a supplies list online, call and ask what they need. (The answer will always include socks!)
Furry Friends: Consider giving to your local SPCA. You don’t even have to give money. Check your closets for old towels and blankets. The animal shelters can always use them. Items such as food and kitty litter are usually welcome as well.
P.S You know you want to take a kitten home with you. Picture it… kitten in a Christmas stocking. You would break Instagram.
Buy Stuff: 1: If you are an Amazon shopper, join Amazon Smile. You can chose a charity and Amazon donates every time that you make a purchase. I chose Shriner’s Hospital because my husband was a former patient, but there are hundreds to choose from. Since you are shopping anyway…
2. Speaking of Amazon… If you find a charity that you would like to support, see if they have a website. A lot of times you will see an Amazon wish list. You can buy items directly from them and have the items shipped to their location.
3. Check out craft fairs. I freakin’ love craft fairs! Around this time of year you will see them pop up everywhere and a lot of them take place at schools. Several of these benefit education programs such as music or sports. Even if you don’t have a kid attending the school, they will still let you in. Ask me how I know. Heh. As a bonus, crafters are happy to see others enjoying their work. The big wigs at Walmart seem less enthusiastic… for some reason.
Getting the Kids involved: If the shelters are asking for blankets, go to the fabric store and grab some fleece. There are a lot of YouTube videos teaching how to make tie blankets. All hail the mighty YouTube! Take the younglings food bank or toy drive shopping. It is such a great opportunity to share the spirit of giving.
You’ve Got Skills: Do you know how to crochet or knit? Consider making hats to donate to a chemotherapy center. A friend of mine is a hair stylist and would like to donate her services to women attempting to enter or re-enter the workforce. Brainstorm it! If Sesame Street has taught me anything, it is that the people in my neighborhood have a plethora of skills.
If you don’t have time or money to give, you always have kindness. We need it right now. It is one of the only gifts that can be well received even if it is returned.
Happy Holidays and Happy Helping!