The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year. Regardless of if you celebrate a holiday during the month of December, I think we all can agree that there really is something special in the air. I love the holidays for many reasons, but beyond all else is the spirit of giving that encompasses the season. Volunteering is something that I really enjoy, and since being at college during COVID has made that a little more difficult, I am really excited to have the opportunity to give back over the holidays. Afterall, at least for me, the feeling that I get when I give is always more special than when I receive. So here’s five ways to give back this holiday season.
Please note, these are not the only ways to volunteer your time or money; there are so many other wonderful organizations, causes, and actions that can be taken. These are just five, relatively COVID friendly ways of doing so.
- Volunteer to be a bellringer (or participate in the virtual Red Kettle Campaign)
Even with COVID, the need for the Salvation Army has not slowed down; in fact it has only picked up. As the organization’s annual Red Kettle Campaign begins to start up again, the Salvation Army of Dane County is still looking for 24,000 hours worth of volunteers. The organization provides so many wonderful services for those in need– everything from beds and food to job training and community support. This season in Wisconsin alone, they expect to give the magic of the holidays to 42,000 children and feed 21,000 families. Well the Salvation Army assures that all bell ringing shifts will follow COVID precautions such as wearing a mask, wiping down the basket, and standing six feet apart, if you still aren’t comfortable, you can easily participate in their online giving campaign. I realize we are all college kids and money can be hard to come by, but even donating a dollar or two can help someone who’s fallen on hard times.
- Operation Gratitude
Our veterans and first responders are our community lifelines. This year especially, we can not thank them enough. Operation Gratitude is a national nonprofit that works to forge bonds between Americans and their military and first responders, and you can be a part of thanking them for their service with as simple of a task as writing a letter. Through their online portal, Operation Gratitude provides a step by step toolkit to help draft, form, and send letters. If writing isn’t quite your speed, you are more than welcome to draw pictures or make cards; whatever works best for you. More often than not, these are the men and women that walk into situations when everyone else walks out, and they never get enough gratitude. Many will be away from their families for the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean that they have to be alone. Of course, if you are feeling inspired and are able to, Operation Gratitude also has other ways that you can get involved on their website. There really is something for everyone’s talents.
- Cards for Seniors
Senior care centers have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Apart from the spread of the virus, many residents have found themselves in isolation and unable to see many of their family and friends. Losing one of my own elderly family members during COVID, I can’t tell you what I would’ve given to have been able to visit her one more time. I really believe that we can learn a lot from our elders and in a time where we can all use a little pick me up, using our creative skills to create cheerful, bright, and positive messages, words of encouragement or lighthearted stories can really make someone smile. Even a coloring sheet or two could change someone’s day. As for where to send the cards, many centers around the country are accepting deliveries and their websites can typically provide information on where and how to address the cards. Run a quick google search, and if you can’t find any, politely reach out to a local center or check the United Way website near you. A small note can go a long way!
- Food, Toy, or Coat Drives
This one is a classic, but it is an easy way to give back. Food shelves always have a need, and during the holidays, that need grows monumentally. When you’re cleaning out your cabinets before you leave town, see if there is anything whose shelf life still has a ways to go. It may be just a box of mac and cheese or a roll of paper towels, but these items can be essential to those who need them most. Be considerate of course: if you wouldn’t eat something, odds are someone else wouldn’t either, but rest assured that any donation would be put to good use. Ask your friends, ask your roommates, ask your family: collecting cans takes maybe 20 minutes, and most food shelves are open five days a week for donations. In that same way, if you also happen to be going through your closet and find some gently used coats, hats, or mittens that you no longer need, please don’t toss them: donate them!! While local drives may have passed, a quick search on google can reveal other locations and organizations accepting donations. Winter is hard for everyone, but its difficulty increases without basic necessities such as food and coats. This opportunity doesn’t even necessarily require you to spend money, simply just a little bit of time and effort to bring some joy to another.
- Homeless Care Packages
Here is what I will say: Personally, I will always advocate to volunteer through a shelter or soup kitchen, but in times of COVID, that might not be feasible for either party. Homeless shelters are in need of basic necessities, ranging from socks to masks to feminine products. If you have the means to, donating is one of the easiest ways to provide assistance. However, another great opportunity to help some of the most vulnerable in our community is by making them a care package. You can do this through an organization such as Friends of the State Street Family here in Madison, which also has a list of current needs, or you can do this one on your own too. Including basic and practical necessities such as socks or gloves, and water and some storable foods like beef jerky may just be what someone is in need of. A small, kind note could also go a long way. Usually stored in quart to gallon size ziplocs, these packages easily fit under a seat in your car. However, there is the risk that someone is professionally panhandling, so just be mindful of this when you deliver them. Above all though, whether you volunteer/donate at a shelter, through an organization, or make a package on your own, please treat everyone with the humanity and dignity that they deserve.
I know I may sound like a broken record and that my message is no longer unique, but after the year that we’ve all had, now more than ever, we need to look out for each other. As the semester starts to draw to a close and many of us head home to our corners of the world, it’s important that we not forget about the essence of the holiday season. Regardless of the traditions that you do or don’t participate in, I think we can all agree that giving back to our communities is just a genuinely kind way to be a good human. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day and the end of the craziness, we are all people just trying to survive. Not only is that humbling, but it can also bring out the best in people, even in trying times. Whether you choose to donate time or money in one of these ways, or in one of the hundreds of other ways, I hope that it can provide both you and someone else a little bit of light.