Here are dozens of easy ways you can make a real difference this holiday season. After all, what better way is there to get into the holiday spirit than giving back?
Holiday acts of kindness
Buy gifts for kids who might not otherwise receive presents. Here are a few programs through which you can help provide gifts to kids who need them:
- One Simple Wish has a list of wishes from foster youth. The wishes are compiled by social workers and other professionals who work with children. You can contribute toward fulfilling a wish via their website or cover an entire wish yourself.
- Call your local Salvation Army to see if they have an Angel Tree Program, which distributes toys to kids in need. You can use the site’s zip code search to find your location, but you will need to call (scroll to find the zip code tool). Some locations will allow businesses to take an entire tree for their lobby. (The tree is full of wishes on paper angels, and employees fulfill the wishes.)
- Operation Santa. This U.S. Postal Service site allows you to provide gifts to kids who write letters to Santa. You can participate in their digital program where you sign up online, look through letters and choose a letter to answer. You’ll buy and package the gift and drop it off at your post office. You should check the site to make sure your post office is participating.
- You can browse through toys and choose a gift to donate for Toys for Tots. You choose and pay for a toy online and the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve distributes the toys across the U.S.
- If you’re looking for more options, other great places to contact are your local children’s hospital and your local homeless shelter.
Here’s an uplifting story about how one present from a holiday gift program—a small guitar—inspired Jimmy Barber to grow up to help thousands of kids.
Letter writing is an easy way to make people’s day.
- Send cards to lonely seniors. When he was 13-years-old Jacob Cramer started Love for the Elderly, which distributes letters to American seniors via senior centers and nonprofit organizations. You send them your handwritten cards, and they distribute them to seniors. Letters have come in from all over including Asia and Scotland.
- You can also send mail to Cards for Hospitalized Kids, which delivers the cards to children in US hospitals. These are great activities for individuals, families and classrooms.
- Write a quick thank you note to the people who serve you every day – mail carrier, trash collectors, etc. This is an especially good activity for our kids to remind them of people they might take for granted.
- Think of the amazing people in your life. Take an hour to write those people a letter telling them why they’re awesome. Wouldn’t you love to get a letter like that?
Adopt military families.
- Military families often have a very tight budget, and could use some help over the holidays. Soldiers Angels provides a way for us to contribute and show our gratitude by providing some gifts for military kids and parents. This program is offered by Soldiers Angels. You pay $12 to cover overall expenses as well as a $50-$100 food gift card and $35-$50 gifts for every child in the family.
“We want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for going out of your way to help our family during Christmas. It isn’t easy needing help. But it was amazing to tell my wife ‘Look at the Goodwill of the American People.’ My girls were very happy and excited. We can’t say enough to express our gratitude. It was probably the best Christmas in many years. We really were blown away by the blessings! God Bless you.” – Mark and Family
Earn money for charities without changing your buying habits
- If you’re buying gifts on Amazon, use the Amazon Smile URL and a percentage of your purchase price will go to the charity of your choice at no extra cost to you.
- When you buy gifts from one of 1,700 participating online retailers, you can use iGive to have that retailer donate money to your favorite charity (again, at no cost to you). This includes major retailers like Apple, Bed Bath & Beyond, and others.
Clean up your house and help…
- Get ready for the new, by getting rid of the old . . . Use those boxes piling up from your online gift buying to pack up clothes, household items, games or other items you no longer need, and Givebackbox.com will provide a prepaid shipping label so you can have the items shipped to a nonprofit at no charge. This can be done from any state in the US. If you choose the charity to which you’d like to send your items you pay for shipping. If you send it to Give Back Box and let them distribute to nonprofits, the shipping is free.
- The Salvation Army will pick items up from your house (pickup is only in certain geographies, so check their zip code search feature). Donations to the Salvation Army support their adult rehabilitation centers.
- The Military Order of the Purple Heart will pickup clothes, small appliances, electronics, toys and much more to benefit veterans. Here’s a list of what they will pick up. They operate in NJ, DE, PA, MD, CT, VA and NY.
- You can donate all sorts of items you no longer use to various nonprofits. Here is a detailed list of where to donate clothes, furniture, old phones, inkjet cartridges, children’s clothes and books, appliances, electronics, cars, eyeglasses and more.
Donate a small sum of money to a charity you love.
Don’t think a small donation can make a huge difference? Read this inspirational story about a donation of $15 a month that had an incredible ripple effect, changing the lives of over 300 families. You can, of course, also donate a larger amount that can change a life. (I know the amounts below aren’t small, but how awesome that a few hundred dollars can completely transform a life.)
- Miracle Feet funds surgeries to cure Clubfoot. 1 in every 750 kids worldwide is born with club foot – a deformity that left untreated leads to inability to walk. Over 1 million kids have untreated clubfoot. In many countries, disability leads to neglect, abuse and inability to have a decent life. Those countries are often the ones that don’t have the resources for treatment. $500 will treat one child’s clubfoot, and change that child’s life forever.
- Himalayan Cataract Project (HCP) cures blindness by providing a 10-minutes surgery that fixes cataracts. HCP has taken a procedure that costs $3,000 in the US and has brought that cost down to under $200 in developing nations. So far, HCP has helped restore sight to about 500,000 people in Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan, India, Bhutan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and North Korea. It costs $25 for the materials for each surgery. If we look at all of their nonprofit’s costs it comes out to about $200 per person cured of blindness. Keep in mind that those costs include routine eyecare for close to two million people and training eye surgeons around the world who go on to help thousands of additional patients. So, the cost to cure blindness in one person is actually much less than $200. A bargain for curing blindness and a great investment!
- Help a teacher get the supplies needed for class. DonorsChoose.org let’s you support schools and teachers in your community so students can get the tools, supplies and experiences they need for a great education. You scroll through the requests of different teachers and choose the one you’d like to support. Here’s an opportunity where a small donation will make a big difference.
Help a neighbor
- “Can I pick something up for you?” Everyone is so stressed over the holidays. If you’re going to the store, call a neighbor you think could use a break and ask if she’d like you to pick something up for her while you’re at the store.
- Provide a small gift and note to a neighbor or friend. A woman on our street gives our son a holiday basket every year. It probably costs $5, but it makes our son (and us) ecstatic.
- Collect change in a jar all year (or at this point for the month of December). At the end of the month, give the jar anonymously to someone who could benefit from the money. This tradition is called a Christmas Jar and is from a fantastic book, Christmas Jars.
- Support an entrepreneur through a loan via Kiva. The loan will support an entrepreneur in poverty. 97% of the loans are repaid and your contribution can be as little as $25.
- Global Giving is a platform that allows you to make a small donation to a global nonprofit you choose. It’s fun to scroll through the nonprofits and decide where you’d like to make an impact.
Be a cheerleader.
- When you see people doing something right, tell them. It’s always a great time to give out compliments, but since the holidays can be stressful – your compliments might be even more appreciated than usual. If you have something nice to say, then say it!
Looking for more ideas about how to spread kindness? These ideas are from my book, HumanKind: Changing the World One Small Act At a Time. This National Bestseller and Canadian Book Club Awards Finalist is filled with true stories about how one small deed can make a world of difference. “Elegant and wise” (Deepak Chopra). “The most uplifting and life-affirming book in years” (Forbes). Learn more about HumanKind.
In addition to the good deeds listed above, check out these 103 Random Acts of Kindness.
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