Holiday Giving Ideas
One thing I love about December is how easy it is for all of us to live a little greater. So, instead of highlighting just one person who is living greatly this month, I want to provide some simple ideas to help us all step up our giving game and get involved in our community over the holidays.
Ding Ding . . . Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign. One of the easiest things we can do is clear out the extra change from our cars and wallets and give it the Santas that tirelessly ring their bells outside of Sam’s Club, JCPenney, Krugers, Big Lots, and countless other stores to raise money for the the underserved (this can be done virtually, too). The Red Kettle campaign began in 1891 by Salvation Army employee and San Francisco resident Joseph McFee, who was upset to see so many individuals going hungry. He wanted to find a way to feed them, especially during the holidays. Thinking back to his days as a sailor in Liverpool, England, McFee remembered a large, iron kettle called "Simpson's Pot" that sat at the harbor. Passersby tossed in a coin or two to help the poor. McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing. Next to the pot, he reportedly placed a sign that read, "Keep the Pot Boiling." He soon had enough money to feed 1,000 people for Christmas. In 2013—122 years after the first pot was put out—the Salvation Army raised $136 million through its Red Kettle Campaign. The money was used nationally throughout the year to help provide more than 10 million nights of shelter, roughly 58 million meals, and after-school and substance abuse programs. During the holiday season, the funds also provided 4.2 million people with warm meals or toys for their children.
Answering Letters to Santa. For 102 years, United States Postal Service employees and other individuals have volunteered their time to answer children’s letters to Santa. These dedicated Santas answer over 500,000 letters annually. Check to see if your post office participates in the program.
Sending Cheer to Military Personnel. I’ve spent roughly 8 years overseas, either for school or work, so I know how tough it is to be away from family and friends during the holidays. I can only imagine how much harder it is for military personnel serving on ships or bases. A great way to support our troops is to send them care packages. There are a variety of organizations that collect and distribute goods to the armed forces, however, I prefer to put my own packages together using Any Soldier. Any Soldier was founded in 2003 by the parents of Sergeant Brian Horn, while Brian was serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade near Kirkuk, Iraq. Although Brian’s parents were sending him an average of six packages a week, he asked for more so he could distribute them to soldiers who didn't get much or any mail. Since the operations began 11 years ago, Any Soldier has grown to include Any Marine, Any Sailor, Any Airman, and Any Coast Guard. The site is easily searchable by select criteria (e.g., state from which the personnel are deployed, country where they are stationed, military branch, whether or not there are females in the unit, etc.), and within seconds of selecting your recipient and browsing his or her wish list, a mailing address is emailed to you. Then, it’s up to you to put together a package and get it in the mail.
Donating Instead of Buying. Who doesn’t love buying gifts during the holidays? I don’t want to be Scrooge, but here’s an idea I’ve tried and love. If your aunt, sister, or dad has pretty much everything they need, maybe you can write a thoughtful card and make a donation in his or her honor. There are lots of great charities. For adults, you can give to Modest Needs, which helps cover costs for people who are in temporary need. For example, you could help a woman who is undergoing cancer treatment and is struggling to pay the mortgage because of missed work. Or, if you have a niece or nephew who is drowning in toys and gadgets, you can buy him or her an animal that will help feed a village through Heifer International. One year, for my niece, I bought a small stuffed animal along with the card that told the story. (After all, most kids have a hard time accepting a piece of paper as a gift for the holidays!)
Gift Giving for Kids. Probably one of the most popular holiday gift campaigns for underserved children is Toys for Tots. I also like taking a name off a Secret Santa tree and buying and wrapping gifts for a specific child in need. I’ve found holiday gift trees in many places: my bank, my daughter’s preschool, and other local businesses (nationally, the Salvation Army Angel Tree program is growing). If you can’t find a tree in your area, why not start your own gift giving campaign? I recently came across a Bay Area nonprofit called Family Giving Tree. Family Giving Tree started in 1990 as a San Jose State University MBA class project in the hopes of providing holiday gifts to 300 children in East Palo Alto. By 2013, the total number of gifts and backpacks donated had grown to over 900,000, making the Family Giving Tree the largest gift and backpack donation program in California. Family Giving Tree has been able to grow through the support of community led drives (both physical and virtual). Their site has all the resources you need to start your own drive today. And it’s a great project to do with kids!
Sharing Food. Every holiday season, the Boy Scouts of America runs an annual food drive to feed the hungry. If you’ve missed yours, you can always donate food to your local soup kitchen, shelter, or simply leave non-perishable food items in the barrels sitting at the entrances of many grocery stores throughout the country (I’ve seen them at Safeway).
Living just a little bit greater during the holidays doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money or time. You could also bake cookies and carol at your local senior living center. Or let someone who looks like they’re in a hurry cut in front of you in the grocery store line. Keep it simple if simple is all you can manage this season. The holidays are a great time to reboot our giving and challenge ourselves to live a notch greater, no matter how big or small the deed.
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