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Ideas for “Giving Back” This Christmas!

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 in 2007, 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:

English Muffin Bread

  • 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:

Sour Cream Cookies

  • Bake and take Christmas cakes and cookies to nursing and retirement homes. While you’re there…sing a few Christmas carols.

Related: My Mom’s Amazing Sour Cream Cookies

Volunteers pack Christmas food boxes with food supplied by the Oregon Food Bank.
  • 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 Christmas 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!

Jill Nystul Photo

Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.
I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee

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  • There was joy in that anticipation. There was joy in that reciprocation. I once sent out Christmas cards with photos of me traveling in different places. Why not share what your life looks like. I guess sometimes you have to do something yourself in order to change your mindset.

  • We stumbled over here different page and thought I might as well check
    things out. I like what I see so now i’m following you.
    Look forward to checking out your web page again.

  • Thanks Jillee I needed to read this post today. My husband had to leave his job in september due to health problems. While we are waiting nd praying for social security disability benefits to be approved, our income has been cut by more than half. I work in a non profit where we have had only 1 `% raise in the last 2 years, and I was feeling really down today struggling to figure out how to pay the car insurance so I can keep my job which requires that I have a car to get to clients. I woke up to a flat tire today and found out I had no road hazard coverage. I was feeling so very hopeless.

    I try to always live in gratitude and I know we are blessed in many ways. Facing the holidays with the furnace going out, the car having problems and no money is stressful but thinking about ways to give back is such a good plan.

    My clients have developmental disabilities and often when they are in public, people either pity them or ignore them. Often they are given dirty looks, called stupid or shoved aside. When you see someone with a disability, make sure you stop, smile, maybe even just say high. This alone will make their day.

  • Thanks for sharing your inspirational and heartfelt story…it feels great to hear the good things. After losing my husband to cancer, the holidays are such a struggle with no friends or family. Thanks for the reminder that there are so many who could use a kind act, no matter how small. I think I will try to find an opportunity to help someone else…I have a feeling it would be good for both of us!

  • When my daughter passed away at the age of 7 her brothers wanted to do something to help other children who are ill and stuck in the hospital or in bed at home, so we gathered books together and took them to the office of the Palliative care team that took such good care of my daughter and our family. This became what is now “Cheyenne’s Lending library” it is full of books and blankets, toys and craft items for kids and even parents who stay with their children. The idea is to take their mind off of their illness for a little while. Each year we drop off new books on Cheyenne’s birthday and at Christmas. Sometimes in between. We have been doing this since 2004. I have had friends bring me boxes full of books and toys for her library. I am also involved in a group called “Kenmore Elves” Kenmore being the town I live in. We adopt families each year and deliver a little holiday cheer in the form of gifts and gift cards and food. I love reading about others giving back. I think that giving is really what life is all about.

  • What a wonderful post you have today, it truly is the time for giving. We pick several names on the giving tree at our church to give needed items to. There is so many people in need and the Christmas season is a wonderful time to show how much you care about your community!

  • What I find interesting is that no matter where you live or what your resources/hobbies/interests/talents are, there are needs you can fulfill. What I also find interesting is that no matter what we have, there are things that even we need help with. And oft times getting our need fulfilled is just the service someone else needed to do. I guess what I am trying to say–if someone offers service, be kind enough to accept with grateful heart.

  • What an inspiring post today, Jillee.
    This year through the nail salon I go to , they decided to Adopt a Grandparent. And this is what I did.. I think it is a wonderful thing they are doing and since just losing my Dad recently, I hope I can make someone else’s Dad feel loved.

  • Good morning. Thank you for your post. I crochet “prayer shawls” (blankets) for people who are going through hard times, ie: loss of a family member, chemo, etc. I think I’ve made about 40 so far. Wouldn’t it be nice if I never had to make another one? Until then though, I’ll keep crocheting. Merry Christmas

  • Wonderful ideas. This year our Church has a tree with little ornaments and each ornament has a number on it. Then someone else has a list of who the families are and
    the ages, gender, and ideas of what they would like. We
    also have a family or two that the Church is adopting in our local community.

  • They say God works in mysterious ways! A former HS classmate called me the other night saying that our class should bond together and find a family from our class or one of the classes from our school who needs help and do a Christmas project. Then I wake up this morning and find your blog. What a great gift this has been. I am going to send it to the entire class, 165 of them and see what we can put together this weekend. Thank you Jillee for your inspiration. Wonderful ideas. Susan.

  • Each year, my husband and I give Christmas baskets to family and friends. We fill them with yummy treats, silly old fashioned toys that even the adults love, and an ornament or two. This year, I decided to knit or crochet a winter scarf for each of our kids, their spouses, and the grandkids to add to their baskets, but then a thought popped into my mind while knitting away one day (wonder where that thought came from?) to make 2 scarves for each of them and include this little rhyme:{ I thought I’d make a scarf for you, but then I thought…. why not make two? One to keep, and one to share… with someone in need when it’s cold out there.} So it’s getting close to Christmas and I’ve also reached my goal. Only 2 more scarves to make…. I think they will all enjoy giving someone a scarf and a smile.

  • My in-laws adopt a family every year–this year they ‘adopted’ an elderly couple. My mother-in-law loves buying toys for children (and bugging me about grandbabies…) but she said there are also so many needy families without children that often get overlooked.

  • I have been involved in my church group that makes lap quilts for the elderly in rest homes and for single moms with new babies. With my daughter-in-law I’m beginning to crochet preemie caps for newborns. They will go to the hospital that was so helpful to my son and dsughter-in-law that lost our grandson, Ethan, at full-term almost 7 years ago. I also, like others that have written here, save un-opened shampoo bottles, etc. from my hotel stays to give to an organization that puts care packages together for the homeless. I find, as many others, it is much more fun to give than receive but I’m also learning to be a gracious receiver if gifts, because I want others to have the joy too! : ) God’s blessings to all you that give in so many wonderful ways!

  • What a great post Jillee. Thanks for reminding us all to give back. My suggestion at Christmas: Donate blood. It costs you nothing and can save a life. What better gift is there than that!?

  • Love the post! There are just so many things we can do. Something we can do throughout the year is to support a local group of Girl/Boy Scouts. Naturally the can always use money– but they also take donations of all kinds. These are a few of the items the collected over the years by our scouts: newspapers, old towels/sheets for animal shelters, non perishable foods, gently used sporting equipment sent to Latin America, books, dishes, tools for Habitat for Humanity projects, scrap lumber to build bat houses, school supplies, winter clothing, gently used formal dresses & suits for proms, rubber gloves & trash bags for community cleanups– I could go on but I think you get the idea. When you are aware of the needs, you’d be surprised how much of this stuff you have hanging around. And they most always pick the stuff up at your house.

  • We live in a smaller community and dont see the homeless shelters and so on that seem to be so common in larger areas. What we stumbled on this year was an organization called heart to heart…and our department at work “adopted” a family in need (anonymously-meaning we received first names and ages/sizes of the kids and everything we collected was taken back to heart to heart who then wraps it and delivers it to the family in time for Christmas). We have worked with this organization for several years but this year was different because the mom of the family we adopted was in hospice care. Because there are a lot of people in our organization who have been affected by cancer it struck a chord with all of us. We collected a lot of stuff for the family and even had some people donate cash. When all of the gifts on their list had been purchased along with wrapping paper, stocking stuffers and so on, we still had a pretty healthy sum of money left over…we checked with the coordinator of the heart to heart program and decided to purchase a holiday meal through the local grocery store so that they would still have a meal…Sadly, the mom passed away before the gifts could be delivered, and we ended up using some of the cash donations to purchase a gift card to the grocery store instead of a meal…but it was really meaningful to all of us to know that the kids would still have a Christmas in the middle of their sorrow. Also, in conversations with the heart to heart coordinator, she put us in contact with the local hospice office and what we found is that they always need volunteers to do little things for their clients…whether its small repairs, gardening and yard work, cleaning, errands. That’s not an organization that I would have thought of before!!!

  • Jillee,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have a 19 year old daughter who will be 1 year clean in about a week. We are so proud of her! Never thought our family would be going through this journey…..we have learned a lot.
    Thank you for all your wisdom.

  • Jillee,
    I don’t write often but read your blog and get your emails everyday, I found you on pinterest. Thank you for all of your posts, especially today’s. It is truly inspiring just as you are. Thank you for sharing your story, YOU are an inspiration!

  • I love your ideas, one that probably isn’t thought of often. When us kids were older and after we left, my parents ran a ‘elf’ service for the parents at their church and in the neighborhood with little kids. They stored bikes or other large items and then ‘Santa’ came to pick them up on Christmas Eve, after the kids went to bed. Mom and Dad were home on Christmas Eve (we always celebrated Christmas Day) they would have eggnog, coffee or cookies for the parents. Sometimes Dad would assemble the items out of the box for them if they weren’t already assembled. Mom would tie huge red bows.

    At work the executives purchase and donate the items for large baskets (some might be electronics, a kitchen aid mixer, movies, and things that go along with them), there were about 20 baskets this year. Then employees can buy raffle tickets for the baskets over a month. Raffle ticket proceeds go to two charities Angels Among Us (helps the families of kids with cancer), and Child Saving Institute. This year I think we raised over $5000

    I volunteer all year long with National Wild Turkey Federation, specifically with the Women in the Outdoors group. We just had a committee potluck and gift exchange, and considering next year having something like that for all the ladies that came to an event that year. Your post has me thinking that instead of a gift exchange we should collect gifts for a local organization instead.

  • This year I have a dear friend that is in need and that is where my “giving back” will be this year. I have known my friend for years, although we have never met face to face. We have been through a lot together through the internet. This is one of the most caring ladies I have ever met! Right now she is in such bad shape that she can only afford to eat one meal a day to be able to pay her bills. I am praying for her and others like her and worse. God has and is so good to me that I want to give back for His sake.

  • Thanks Jillee for spreading the Christmas joy, don’t forget your local homeless shelters, the most difficult and heart warming thing there was when I took over the giving tree (Christmas tree decorated with small toys and candy instead of ornaments) a little girl, probably about 4 had never had a toy before, she picked out a doll but didn’t know what to do with it, after a few minutes of pretend play she was all smiles turned out her mom had resently escaped an abussive relationship in wich they were for the most part kept locked up, please remember you don’t have to have money to give, donating things you don’t need around the house are always necessities to others and like Jillee said, your time is the greatest gift of all like playing with that little girl I’m sure it gave her mom hope for the future

  • If any of you are looking for a good charity to donate to, here is a new one that is just getting started. It is out here in Utah. If you have ever had a loved one suffer from dementia-related illness you know how traumatic it can be for the rest of the family and caretakers. Logan, UT used to have a day center where the caretakers could take their loved ones to drop them off for a few hours or the whole day, so they can get much needed respite. But that program stopped in 2008. A new one hopes to start shortly, the Cache Valley Adult Day Center. They have almost everything ready and are awaiting some funding. This is the charity my family donated to this year (Instead of giving gifts, we each donate $ and every year a different adult child and their family get to choose what to do with the money). There are 9 of us kids, and some years it may just be sent anonymously to a needy family in the community, or to a specific charity like this. Anyway, I have met the committee members and am impressed by their unconditional love for those suffering, and their understanding of what caretakers of dementia and Alzheimer’s patients are going through. Their website is http://www.cvadc.org.

    Other charities are your local animal rescue, like Jillee mentioned in her post. My heart breaks for so many animals without homes. I wish I could do more.

    Another thing that touches my heart is when I see young kids go out of their way to do something kind. When my dog had seizures and was sick, a local 6 year old boy made “get well cards” for my dog and came over and sat with him and petted him. Other times, the neighborhood kids came over just to play with my dogs (I am super busy and don’t have much time to play, unfortunately, so usually they just get a quick run with me riding my bicycle, only a mile or so). Granted, I think I am the coolest house on the block, haha, so the kids seem to swarm to my house and I don’t even have any kids!! (Ok, I admit, I have a HUGE collection of foreign money that is worthless really, and so I usually let them pick a few coins out of it for themselves, and now 5 kids in my neighborhood have started their own collections, hehe).

    Anyway, I love giving, WAY more than receiving. Recently my husband fixed a lady’s laptop computer, she was really counting on it and was stressed about the thought of it not working anymore. It was a simple, $33 part, that was it. She was so happy she brought a roast over to our house. We didn’t want to help her out to get anything in exchange, but it was so thoughtful. I just wish she kept the money it took to buy the roast, for herself. But the feeling of joy knowing that her laptop was up and running again less than 24 hours after it died on her, and how happy she was, made ME happy :)

    Ok, enough, I know I have gone on and on… sorry!! Merry Christmas!

  • I try and find 1 different thing each year to do. This year there is a 9-year-old boy in KY who is battling cystic fibrosis and not expected to live much longer. He wants to break the world record for getting the most Christmas cards before he dies so I am sending one to him and also spreading the word. I have cystic fibrosis myself and that is how I heard about him.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Where is your husband from? I am a born-and-raised North Dakotan!

      • I was born and raised in Bismarck, but now I live about 2 hours from Fargo in the NW corner of Minnesota. It takes courage to move here in the winter, especially for someone from California!

  • Such wonderful ideas. My office collects money all year long by allowing us to wear jeans on Mondays if we pay a dollar. Of course we all do it and it really adds up to a big pot of money by December. This year we are buying for 2 families for Christmas and also giving some of the money to a local women’s shelter. Food bank items are also collected and we are looking at the fact that summer times are often very lean times for the food banks.

  • Really enjoyed your post today! It truely is more blessed to give than to recieve. We bring joy to ourselves by giving to others in need, whether it be a need for love, attention, a compliment or things like you have suggested. Just want you to know I think you are an Awesome Lady! Soooo glad I found your blog. Love your recipes, DIY ideas, crafts, it’s ALL good. I am – one of your biggest fans! God Bless You & Your Family! >

  • Hiya Jillee
    I read about your story and i must say it is truly inspiring. Its strange because addictions such as that can happen to anyone of us. You really are not alone.
    Thank you for posting this today im sure it will inspire people as it has me to be grateful for the things they have in this Christmas period and that they should do what they can to help those less fortunate and in need for some TLC. Thank you
    Take care


  • I travel a lot and always take the guest toiletries with me when I leave the hotel (unused of course). They usually include things like shoe-shine wipe, slippers, toothbrush and mini toothpaste, comb etc. as well as the usual shower gel and moisturizer. Pop these in a hand-made toiletries bag – you can make an easy drawstring bag or be a bit fancier with a zip if you have the skills- and donate them to a local shelter where young people and families who are trying to get back on their feet are homed. They are always much appreciated.

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