Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure and honor of delivering a very special present to a place near and dear to my heart. “The Ark”, a substance abuse rehabilitation facility, was the place I called “home” for 72 days four years ago, and it is thanks to the program and staff there that I am sitting at this keyboard typing this message to you today. It’s a long story, one I won’t go into detail about in this post, but you can read about it on my “About Me” page if you feel so inclined. :-)
The reason for my visit to The Ark and the reason for this post today was “giving back”. I was recently given this beautiful framed print of an original painting by Liz Lemon Swindle entitled “The Prodigal Son”. It depicts the bible story of a happy reunion between a father and son who have been estranged. When I received the artwork as a gift, I immediately knew where it should go….to the place that welcomed me like the prodigal son, and the place that helped this prodigal daughter find her way back to her family.
Being able to “give back” to the people who had basically saved my life was one of the best Christmas presents I could ever ask for and is what inspired me to write this post today. I know that many at Christmastime want to do something charitable but don’t always know where to start. I wanted to provide a few ideas and then start a conversation about ways we can all “give back” this Christmas and make our communities, our world, better places for everyone.
Here’s a list of ideas to get us started:
- I wanted to start with an idea from one of the readers of this blog who shared her story with me on Facebook. After Deborah Knoll read my post about my Mom’s Wonderful English Muffin Bread, she not only made some for her and her family but she also decided to make some to sell. She then used the money to buy gift cards for gasoline to give to cancer patients to offset their costs having to travel back and forth to receive their chemo treatments. Her great idea and generous spirit has been contagious because now her family and friends are asking for the recipe so they can do the same thing. Such a simple, creative idea! Thanks for sharing Deborah! Keep up the great work!
- Another variation on the above idea…..organize a gift, phone or gas card drive. These can be distributed to charity organizations to give to needy individuals and families. These are practical gifts that can help make or break a needy family during the holidays and its as simple as picking one up during your usual shopping. Let others know you are collecting them and drop them off at any local food bank where people go to ask for assistance with utilities and rent.
- Grab a name off an “Angel Tree” at your local Walmart (or other retailer.)
- Buy cat litter, cat food, and dog food for your local SPCA, volunteer at your local animal shelter, or donate money to a shelter to cover the adoption fees of a family that comes in to get a dog for Christmas.
- Make baby blankets for your local hospital. Fleece fabric blankets are easy to make and don’t even require any sewing!
- Put together a box for soldiers oversees. They need/want things that we take for granted. Shampoo, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, magazines, towels, Christmas decorations, candy, bottled water, tylenol, books, tampons/pads, lotion, chap stick, deodorant, phone cards, baked goods, beanie babies to give to children, the list goes on!
- Organize a wrapping paper drive. Organizations that give out gifts during the holiday season are in desperate need of wrapping paper, gift labels, ribbons and bows to decorate their gifts to the needy. Get your friends and family together and ask for donations of these items, collect them and drop them off.
Children love to receive gifts but we forget that they also like to give gifts. Here are some ideas to involve the kidlets and help them realize they can make a difference:
- Bake and take Christmas cakes and cookies to nursing and retirement homes. While you’re there…sing a few Christmas carols.
- Take your kids with you to the store with a list for the food bank, let them pick out the items so it becomes more meaningful for them.
- Make time for your kids to see their grandparents — or at least talk on the phone — and learn more about their history. Recording or writing down stories of the past are gifts you and your family will treasure in the years to come.
- Whether it’s the elderly couple whose driveway needs shoveling or the single mom who could use a mother’s helper, you probably have someone on your own block who could use a hand. Your family may be able to offer the lifeline they need during the holiday season.
- Start a holiday tradition of allocating a certain amount of money for each child to give to a charity of their choice. Make the money one of the kids’ gifts under the tree or in their stocking on Christmas morning in the form of a homemade gift certificate.
- Make your extended family Christmas party a “Sub For Santa party”. Assign each family things to buy for a family in need and then at the party wrap and deliver the items. Much more fun than having to come up with a white elephant or gift exchange gift!
- Make personal hygiene stockings for a local homeless shelter. Personal hygiene items can be bought in bulk fairly cheaply. Throw in some candy and hats, scarves or mittens with a hand-written note. A good project for the entire family!
And last, but certainly not least, the most precious gift you can offer the needy this time of year is your time. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated during the holiday season. Take a few hours out of your week and donate your time to local shelter programs, soup kitchens or other organizations that are overwhelmed with requests for assistance this time of year.
Now it’s YOUR TURN! Share your experiences and ideas for “giving back” so we can all benefit! I have no doubt there are some GREAT ones out there!