When people hear the word “holiday,” typically they think vacation, family, food, & fun but that’s not true for a lot of people. Some struggle with buying gifts for their children, some with putting food on the table, and some don’t even have a place to call home. Most of the time, we find ourselves wanting to help others but we struggle to find the right place and time. Given that it’s the season of giving, there’s no better time to open our hearts and services to those in need.
Volunteering is not only fulfilling but it also has a lot of positive side effects. According to studies, people who volunteer are more satisfied with their lives and have better physical and mental health. When we volunteer, we experience what researchers call a “warm glow” – the rewarding feeling we get from helping others. Volunteering also boosts our sense of social connection and satisfies our intrinsic need to belong.
If you’re stuck on what to do, start with what you’re passionate about: crafts, organization/planning, writing, etc. and go from there. Otherwise, here’s some ideas on how to volunteer during this holiday season.
With unemployment rates on the rise, an estimated amount of 250,000 new people could join the growing homeless population over the course of the year. Given the circumstances, it’s crucial that we aid them in their time of need. Handing out blessing kits is similar to exchanging gifts with our family and friends – the more time we spend thinking about what to put in our kits, the more we show we care about someone.
If you’re lost on what to include in your kits, here’s some suggestions:
- Hot meals
- Nonperishable food items like crackers, granola bars, or canned goods
- Water bottle(s)
- Medicine kit – e.g., Airborne or Emergen-C packets, Band-Aids
- Hygiene kit including pads and tampons for women
Another thing you can add to your blessing kit is pet food. With up to 24% of the homeless population being pet owners, having goodies for their furry friends is one less thing for them to worry about. Additionally, remember to use gloves and masks when packaging each kit. Assembling the bags before distribution would make the whole ‘giving out’ process more efficient.
Another thing you can do is check out your local community for collections they may be organizing (i.e., Toy or Blanket Drives). With the colder months coming in, shelters, soup kitchens, meal providers, and other non-profits have begun to ramp up their operations and will need all the help they can get. If you plan on chipping in, make sure to keep your items boxed and unopened for the safety of the receiver and everyone around you.
You could also donate to your local food bank. Dry and canned food donations that are considered “shelf-stable” or nonperishable are always welcome, things like peanut butter, canned soup, pasta, or rice. If you’re still unsure of what to include, look at your own pantry. Families who are struggling often can’t afford the staples we usually have at home. A good rule of thumb is if your food is perishable, it’s not donatable. Other things to keep in mind are:
- Does your item need refrigeration (e.g., produce, dairy, meat)?
- When is the expiration date?
- Is the packaging easily damaged i.e., contained in a glass container?
- Are items individually sealed? Can the food bank verify the ingredients or preparation process?
- Is it something you wouldn’t consider buying new? If not, don’t donate it.
You don’t have to step outside to give back to your community, volunteering online gives you a chance to make a difference even if you’re unable to physically go anywhere. One example would be writing to the elderly. According to the CDC, older adults are more at risk of requiring hospitalization or suffering severe illness from contracting COVID-19. Sitting down and writing them a letter seems simple enough but it does have a great impact on their lockdown experience. In fact, studies show that the act of letter writing has tremendous benefits on both writer and recipient “including improved memory function and greater feelings of happiness.” Websites such as readytocare.com or Village Concepts Pen Pal Program can help connect you with seniors needing pen pals. Who knows you might even get a friend for life!
Speaking of seniors, if you know of any in your area, offering to drop off supplies and groceries for them is something you could also do in your spare time. Likewise, if you have a buck to spend, you could donate to a charity of your choice online like Feeding America or PATH who are dedicated to helping vulnerable individuals at this time.
Sharing is Caring
There’s a million ways to volunteer but the best way is to share it with the people you love. Besides, what better way to spread Christmas cheer (besides singing loud for all to hear) than reaching out to those in need. As Aesop says, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
BE Outspoken about caring, BE Outspoken about being kind.
From us to you, Happy Holidays!
–Precious Ringor, Content Creator