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Now that spooky season is officially over, it marks the start of the holiday season! While some see it as a time to start blasting Mariah Carey and wearing snowflake socks, it is also the time for giving back, especially with the pandemic still taking its toll on the economy and families. It is important to give back if you have the capacity to. While opportunities may look different this year, there are still a plethora of ways to help. To make your search a bit easier, I have compiled a list of ways to help the local Gainesville community or your own local community if you are home.

Ways to Give Back in Gainesville

1. Are your dress pants a little too tight? Donate them to the Molm Family Gator Career Closet!

The Molm Family Gator Career Closet, located in the Career Connections Center on campus, helps to provide professional clothing and accessories to students in need for career fairs, interviews, etc. Since the start, it has been able to help 2,457 students annually access professional clothes they otherwise could not afford. Current University of Florida students with a valid UFID, and alumni of up to one year from graduation, are able to use these services. The career closet accepts new or gently used donations of professional clothing or accessories such as suits, blazers, dress pants, jewelry and more. They also accept monetary donations to help fund dry cleaning services and additional cleaning measures for COVID-19. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Jessica Phillipe at JPhillipe@ufsa.ufl.edu for more information. 

2. Help the Rural Women’s Health Project with a dual giving drive.

The Rural Women’s Health Project invites you to participate in the Fall 2020 donation drive as it kicks off the holiday season. They currently have two ongoing projects: a Cornucopia of Thanks Food Drive to help support local farm workers and their families who help put food on our tables and their Fall 2020 Dignity Bag Drive to support rural women in the North Central Florida area who are in need of hygiene products. The organization encourages you to participate with either monetary or physical donations through the end date of Nov. 16. It’s hoping to donate 40 food baskets and 40 hygiene bags this holiday season. For food donations, shelf stable items, such as peanut butter, rice and coffee are preferred. For the dignity bags, items such as toothpaste, shampoo/conditioner, toothbrushes and more are requested. The flyer with more information on how to donate and the specific items requested can be found here

3. Have some food cans lying around (that aren’t expired)? Donate them to the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank.

Bread of the Mighty Food Bank works to collect, sort and distribute food and essential donations to other nonprofit organizations including churches, homeless shelters and food pantries. It serves Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette and Levy Counties through a partner distribution with Feeding America. For every $1 donated, the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank can provide up to 10 meals. It’s holiday 2020 food drive request list can be found here if you are interested in hosting a food drive, or you can choose to make an individual monetary or food donation here

4. Make a child’s holiday by buying a toy for the Alachua County USMCR Toys For Tots program.

Many families cannot afford to purchase gifts for their children in Gainesville and surrounding counties. It will probably be even harder this year for some families to get their child a toy. The Alachua and Tri County US Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign is a great option for donating. It provided over 3,000 toys to kids in Alachua, Gilchrist, Dixie & Levy Counties in 2019. They are accepting volunteer services, monetary or toy/book donations at this time. For more information on how to participate, click here.

5. Give basic supplies to the GRACE Marketplace to help local homeless populations.

With temperatures starting to drop, and the pandemic continuing to take its toll, homeless populations are at serious risk. GRACE works to provide shelter, services and help find permanent housing solutions for the homeless population in Gainesville. You can sign up to volunteer or donate money or items. They have recently resumed drop-off donations for contactless donation drop offs. They always accept blankets, jackets, towels, hygiene supplies and more as detailed hereand on their Amazon registry. Information on how to drop off items can be found here

Ways to Help Your Community Back Home

1. Donate gently used clothes that don’t fit anymore.

Cleaning out your closet? Many churches, clothing drives, nonprofit organizations and more take clothing donations for those who are less fortunate. Typically, a quick Google search or looking for donation boxes in your town can provide a way for you to declutter your closet and give back!

2. Adopt a family during the holidays.

Make it a family bonding event and “adopt” a family for the holidays! There are many programs that can connect you with a less fortunate family with children to buy gifts for. You can do this through your local Toys for Tots program, Operation Christmas ChildMake-A-WishMy Two Front Teeth and The Giving Tree and more! For more organizations that may be in your area, click here or identify a family in your area (neighbors, etc) who you may be interested in helping. 

3. Volunteer to help cook and serve a meal. 

While the coronavirus has changed a lot, many churches, nonprofits and homeless shelters are still offering free meals for the holidays, whether it be packaged or delivered, for those who are less fortunate. If you can find one in your town and you feel safe to do so, you can volunteer to help cook, serve or deliver meals to those in need. 

4. Make your wish list full of donations.

In lieu of Christmas or other holiday gifts, give your friends and family a list of organizations to donate money to on your behalf or supplies that you would like to donate. This is an awesome idea for those family members who never know what to get you! 

5. Make a small impact.

If you’re in the holiday mood but can’t donate anything, simple acts of kindness are a great alternative. Paying for the meal behind you in the drive thru, increasing your restaurant tip and writing letters to soldiers overseas are great examples of ways you can brighten someone’s day.

While it’s not an exhaustive list, all of these options can be a good way to start if you are interested in giving back. Don’t just keep the giving spirit to yourself, feel free to include your family and friends as well. Instead of a secret Santa party, try to find an organization you all are passionate about and find a way to help out if possible (with Mariah Carey in the background, of course). With that, I wish you all a happy holiday season!


Casey is a third-year biology major at the University of Florida and a Features Writer for Her Campus UFL. If she is not freaking out about school, then you can find her going to the beach, watching Ghost Whisperer with her BFF, or trying to find a new pin for her backpack.
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