PHOENIX (Stacker) – The holidays have always inspired giving, not just toward those closest to us, but toward others in need as well. This year, more than ever, people in our own neighborhoods are seeking economic help, job support, and assistance in filling their pantries. Charitable giving is expected to increase an estimated 5.1% in 2021, according to Philanthropy News Digest.
Sometimes, the needs of the world can seem insurmountable, but one good act often leads to another. Not to mention that the simple act of helping someone else can, in turn, help oneself. Stacker has compiled a list of 30 ways to help your neighbors this holiday season, researching ideas from around the web, including those from Charity Navigator, GoFundMe, Do Something, Monster, and Helping Americans Find Help. There’s a mix of virtual, remote, and on-site opportunities so everyone can find a cause that fits their comfort level during these trying times.
While there are hundreds of organized international, national, and local charities, sometimes the fastest way to help your neighbor is to simply offer. Hyper-local assistance means calling neighbors, businesses, and churches in your immediate neighborhood and asking how you might be able to help.
Are there local families or restaurant employees in need right now? Does the local pantry or animal shelter need food? Little tasks that may seem small, such as shoveling the snow in a neighbor’s driveway, or posting a note at the post office offering to pick up someone’s groceries, can mean the world to someone. That little act of kindness when you leave a bigger tip or pick up someone else’s tab at the grocery store does more than you know to bring cheer and lighten the load for another human being.
How will you support your neighbors this holiday season? Keep reading to discover 30 inspirational ideas to get started.
Help to feed your community
Virtually every community has people in it who struggle to put food on the table. With COVID-19 shuddering businesses and causing painful job losses, almost 25% of all Americans in 2020 faced food scarcity. Organizations like Feeding America and United Way have programs in place to offer support to people facing food insecurity and hunger, and rely on volunteers across the country to help sort, pack, and deliver meals. You can also set out on your own or team up with co-workers, friends, or families to launch your own food drive or prepare meals for a neighbor in need. Another program, Lasagna Love, pairs people requesting food with volunteers in the community (termed “Lasagna Mamas”) willing to prepare a hot meal.
Help a vision-impaired person to ‘see’
With the free Be My Eyes app, volunteers can help blind and low-vision people with small, everyday tasks such as reading prescription bottles or finding something they can’t locate. The app works through video calls, so when volunteers receive an alert, they can see for the person they are assisting.
Support a young person in your neighborhood
More than ever, children need supportive adults in their lives. Male role models are in particularly high demand: At Big Brothers Big Sisters, only three out of 10 volunteers are men, but 70% of children looking for a big brother are boys.
Get trained to help out in emergency situations
The nationwide Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program trains citizens to help in emergency situations. Some of the assignments may include crowd control, missing person searches, fire safety, disaster medical operations, and escorting residents of evacuated buildings to recover their belongings. If your community doesn’t already have a local CERT branch, you can set one up in a few basic steps.
Volunteer as a crisis counselor
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ youth under 25. Digital messaging and telephone crisis counselor remote volunteer opportunities are available throughout the United States, with online training and a one-year commitment required.
Document your local biodiversity
Throughout the year, there are hundreds of ways to document and protect the biodiversity in your community. Groups like iNaturalist and Citizen Science invite volunteers to assist professional researchers in helping to gather data on flora and fauna for larger projects. With the iNaturalist app, you can document the animals and plants living in your community, while at the Citizen Science page, you can sign up for specific projects where you live.
Support your neighbors’ civil rights
Dozens of national civil rights organizations fight for people’s fundamental rights and are always looking for advocates, volunteers, and donors. Many national organizations have local chapters throughout the U.S. that are always looking for more supporters.
Give your local businesses and nonprofits a boost
COVID-19 wrought havoc on the economy and came down especially hard on small businesses and organizations. Show your support by making the effort to support independently run businesses and small nonprofits. Many shops offer virtual tours of what’s in stock or online shopping, and donations to local nonprofits can be made 100% virtually. Meanwhile, gift certificates to local restaurants can provide a much-needed boost that can be used at a later date. If you’ve got specific skills you’re willing to share with nonprofits, the website Catchafire connects professionals who have time and expertise to donate with organizations in need. Opportunities to volunteer range from making a quick phone call to full-scale marketing analysis projects.
Help your neighbors out with snow removal
Next time it snows, throw on some winter gear and head to a neighbor’s house to shovel their driveway, steps, or walkways. This simple gesture goes a long way, especially for the elderly or disabled who may have difficulty taking care of snow removal on their own.
Help local students pay for college
Research what scholarship funds are available to students in your community and see how you can help either through volunteering or donating. Nationally, organizations such as Scholarship America depend on community volunteers and donors around the country to aid in each student’s success.
Contribute to a local toy drive
Each year, thousands of organizations and individuals launch toy drives to help children have a festive holiday season. Check with your local places of worship, fire halls, and neighborhood groups to find out what toys are in high demand this year and to see how you can get involved.
Make sure local teachers have the materials they need
Myriad national and local organizations work tirelessly to support our country’s educators by providing them with much-needed school supplies, project materials, and funding. Be sure to check out Donors Choose, Power Of, and UNICEF to get started and see where there is the most need.
Give neighbors in need a fresh start
There are hundreds of opportunities to help out neighbors with the physical trappings of a secure living situation. Habitat for Humanity has local chapters all over the U.S. you can support by shopping for supplies and furniture in a local ReStore or helping with the physical construction of new homes. Another nationwide program, Homes for the Holidays surprises working single parents with furnishings and helps with down payments for their homes. Thousands of volunteers have donated their time and money to help almost 200 families over the years.
Another easy way to help out is to simply ask around about people in your community who are in need of help on various projects, from house painting to reroofing to organizing the garage. Local neighborhood groups are often great resources for this sort of volunteer work.
Expand literacy in your community
More than 43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level. Groups like ProLiteracy seek to change that by helping to educate and empower adults throughout the country. For kids, see if there are any community reading programs you can help out with and call your local library to see if there are upcoming reading initiatives—virtual or otherwise—you can help with, such as book clubs or storytelling series. Lastly, install a Little Free Library box on your front lawn to expand book access and encourage reading in your community.
To help teach English to adult immigrants and refugees in the U.S., check out literacy initiatives like That’s Neighborly.
There is often a critical need for blood, and services like the American Red Cross are also always looking for volunteers (in-person and virtual). Most commonly, blood donations are sent to local hospitals to help people in your community. But depending on need, blood may also be shipped elsewhere throughout the country.
Help out at your local YMCA
There are thousands of YMCAs across the country, and each one depends on volunteers for coaching, motivating youth, leading committees, and supporting neighbors. Volunteering at a local YMCA is an easy way to connect with the teens and adults in your neighborhood.
Become a foster grandparent
Foster grandparents provide critical support to young people in their communities. These volunteers can provide stability and care to children who have been neglected or abused, help with literacy efforts and one-on-one tutoring, lend an ear to adolescents and new parents, and help with care for children who have disabilities as well as premature infants. State governments and national organizations like AmeriCorps Seniors have local chapters that can pair senior citizens with people in their communities.
Be a ray of light for locals requiring long-term care
Programs like the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program advocate for those living in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. Volunteers regularly visit with residents, advocate for them, and utilize alternative ways to communicate while social distancing, such as writing letters to brighten a neighbor’s day.
Become a mentor
Many young people grow up without someone to confide in or turn to for advice about everyday decisions such as looking for a job, buying a car, or choosing a college. Being a mentor to a youth in your community means sharing your knowledge and skills with someone who needs and appreciates what you have to offer.
Join your local chapter of #ChefsForAmerica
To date, more than 12 million meals have been purchased from restaurants across the United States and delivered to those in need as part of the #ChefsForAmerica program. Emergency food relief volunteers are trained on the lines, and those with commercial cooking experience are always welcome.
Beautify your neighborhood
Cleaning up your neighborhood has wide-reaching repercussions, from supporting the local wildlife to improving psychological health. If you enjoy independent volunteer work, it doesn’t require any coordination or signups for you to grab a trash bag and go on a stroll along your neighborhood’s streets and pick up trash. If you’d prefer to work on a larger scale or in a coordinated group effort, consider organizing a neighborhood cleanup or volunteering with an existing organization in your community or a larger group like United Way.
People LOVE to get mail. And every community is filled with people who would appreciate a thoughtful note, especially around the holidays. A few easy ways to share some kindness include leaving a nice note for your mail carrier, sending out a few hand-written holiday cars to your neighbors, or signing up through letter-writing campaigns such as More Love Letters, Love For Our Elders, That’s Neighborly, or Write a Prisoner.
Provide warm clothes to people in your community
Donating a gently worn coat with no holes or stains is a thoughtful way to support a community in need. Find out if any of your local organizations have coat drives in place. Also be sure to visit One Warm Coat, which sets up drives around the U.S. and even offers free online tools and resources for setting up your own.
‘Adopt a Family’ for the holidays
Coordinated by local charities and church groups, Adopt a Family programs choose local families in need and “adopt” them for the holidays. Donors help out with food, gifts, and toys. Inquire with local charities about this program.
Provide critical help to foster children
More than 500,000 children spend time in foster care each year. The mission of One Simple Wish is to answer the simple wishes of some of those children. Volunteers can start a wish fund, send love notes, grant a wish, or start a giving page.
Set up a (virtual) lemonade stand
Alex’s Lemonade Stand leverages community involvement to create a unique way for children to help raise money to combat childhood cancer. Normally, volunteers set up a lemonade stand in the neighborhood to raise money, but while the coronavirus guidelines are in place, children are invited to set up virtual lemonade stands.
Volunteer in a community garden
Throughout the year, community gardens provide essential services to neighbors by beautifying neighborhoods, providing a space to grow local food, and providing nutritious meals to volunteers and people in need. The American Community Gardening Association regularly updates its listings of community gardens around the country; if you don’t see any nearby there, be sure to check with your local libraries, schools, and volunteer organizations.
Join the National Urban League
The National Urban League is a long-standing urban advocacy and civil rights organization that currently serves more than 300 communities across the country. The group’s goal is to provide economic empowerment, educational opportunities, and guaranteed civil rights for America’s underserved communities.
Support your local animal shelter
Showing your support for your local animal shelters and sanctuaries can be as simple as following them on social media to as meaningful as fostering pets in need. Many shelters are always looking for people to help with walking dogs, cleaning, taking photos to aid in the adoption process, or provide monetary support.
Answer letters to Santa
Coordinated by the U.S. Postal Service, Operation Santa invites people across the country to answer letters to Santa. The deadline for gifts to be shipped is December 19.
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