Little-Known Ways You Can Give Back This Holiday Season

There’s something infectious about the holiday season. Warm and fuzzy feelings invade our systems via jingle bells and carols, and suddenly, corporate-inspired consumption seems trivial. When you need a reprieve from the rat race, thinking about ways you can give back to the community could be the substitute you need.

Sure, many of these charitable contributions are tax deductible, but that’s not the real reason we do it. Check out CharityNavigator.org to select authentic local charities near you, and see how you can make a difference in your community this year. Here are eight ideas to get you started.

1. Make a charitable donation in someone else’s name

Man writing a payment cheque

Make a donation to someone’s favorite cause. | Devrim_PINAR/iStock/Getty Images

It’s easy to lose sight of what matters during your frantic attempts to check off everything your family wants to find wrapped under the tree. Submitting a personalized donation to a cause near to someone heart is a refreshing gift many forget about during the retail shopping craze. A donation made to organizations such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, No Kid Hungry, the local humane society, or the Muscular Dystrophy Association can mean more than any other gift on a friend’s wish list.

2. Pen words of hope

Mother helping son (6-8) write christmas card

Write letters to those in need. | Dylan Ellis/ iStock/ Getty Images

Writing heartfelt messages to people of all varieties is an easy — and free — act of goodwill. One simple way to give back is to pen letters and festive holiday cards to those who may feel isolated and lonely during the holiday season. For example, staff at The Cheat Sheet craft warm messages to elderly people without family via Love for the Elderly. Others reach out to prison rape survivors through Just Detention International’s Words of Hope campaign. You can also double down on your charitable efforts by contacting City Meals, an organization that sends letters to homebound elderly neighbors that are delivered with hot meals and food packages.

3. Support our troops

Soldiers with the NATO-led during a special meal on Christmas Day at a military base in Kabul

Help the troops feel closer to home. | Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

Being away from home during the holiday season takes a heavy toll on our deployed servicemembers. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to show some love to the armed forces from home. Farms that participate in Trees for Troops send Christmas trees to military bases worldwide to help keep the holiday spirit alive.

Low-cost alternatives include sending holiday cards and care packages to military members through Holidays for Heroes or A Million Thanks. Here at home, you can donate to FisherHouse.org, a foundation that funds a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment.

4. Adopt a family

The “adoption” provides clothing, meals and gifts for those in need. | iStock/Getty Images

Many families and companies choose to adopt a local family for the holiday. Check out your local Salvation Army branch or any other city-based organization to see how you can tackle a less-fortunate family’s holiday wish list. Some of our Cheat Sheet employees choose a family via the Telluride Angel Baskets program that provides special Christmas gifts in their local Colorado community.

Adopting a family is slightly more expensive than a few other options on this list. To keep cost manageable, assemble a group of friends to sponsor an entire family.

5. Visit a retirement home

elderly woman with nurse

There are plenty of people who need Christmas cheer. | Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

Children tend to outshine the elderly when it comes to give-back opportunities. But a retirement home can be a lonely place for older adults in need of some holiday cheer. Services like Elder Helpers will connect you with volunteer opportunities to serve the older citizens in your community. Everyday tasks like grocery shopping, cleaning, or just friendly companionship are limited in some retirement homes. Residents will appreciate those who try to forge a connection.

You could also donate gift baskets filled with socks, photo albums, gift certificates, or small tech gadgets that’ll brighten their day. 

6. Sponsor a meal

Meals On Wheels of San Francisco driver Jim Fleming loads meals into a van

You can help deliver with Meals on Wheels. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Local Rotary Clubs often identify families in search of some help during the holidays. Collaborate with the club to assemble baskets stuffed with everything families need to prepare a delicious holiday meal everyone craves. Through Meals on Wheels you can walk to end hunger or deliver warm meals to those in need over Thanksgiving. You can also donate funds to the company so they can serve those living with disabilities all over the country.

Even simpler, try buying sandwiches and coffee in bulk and delivering it to homeless men and women on the street or the staff and patrons at the community center downtown.

7. Organize shelves at a food pantry

Donating time will also make a huge difference. | John Moore/Getty Images

If you don’t have cash to spare this season, donating your time is just as valuable. Local homeless shelters or women’s and children’s shelters crave meal prep and food service assistance this time of year. The database of national food banks and the directory of homeless shelters is a reliable place to search for opportunities near you.

8. Appreciate law enforcement

A police officer patrols on the Christmas market

Give back to those protecting you this holiday season. | Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty Images

While you and your family wake up on Christmas morning to a house full of gifts, many law enforcement officers are hard at work protecting your communities. Show your appreciation by giving back to local police and fire stations, EMTs, prison guards, and other LEOs.

National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund generates increased support for the law enforcement profession and promotes public safety. Other cost-effective ways to give back could be sending baked goods to the station (sealed, of course) or picking up their tab at a restaurant. You could even bring some life back into the office of your local police station with a potted plant or thank you plaque.

9. Commit to reckless acts of kindness

A man gives a homeless person some money in the street

There are so many ways to give back. | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

There are countless little ways you can pay it forward each day during the holiday season and beyond. Something as simple as leaving an extra-generous tip for your waitress, buying the coffee of the stranger behind you in line, or paying for a random family’s layaway at the department store can forge a lasting impression. Consider donating books to a child around the world via Better World Books. A good book read at the right time can change lives.

Men could even grow out their beard or mustache to raise awareness and funds for men’s health through the Movember Foundation. In this case, forgoing a month’s worth of shaving is not lazy, it’s charitable.

10. Mentor a child

Dad helping elementary age daughter with school homework

Help kids achieve their potential. | diego_cervo/ iStock/ Getty Images

Organizations that provide free tutoring, mentoring, and extracurricular programs to children are sound ways to lend a hand year-round. The skills you possess as an adult — like critical thinking strategies, team leadership, and SAT prep — can be life-changing to under-served youth in your community. Project Sunshine runs in 175 cities to influence kids every day. Minds Matter pairs adult mentors with high-school age students to assist with the college application process. This non-profit has 12 chapters nationwide.

Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.

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