Christmas truly is the season of giving. If we want to go beyond the usual gift-giving with family members and friends who are already comfortable and privileged in life, why not set our sights on communities and people who might need more help and support?
If you want this holiday season to be more meaningful, consider finding ways to give back to your community. Here are some ideas for extending practical help to those who need it.
Support your town’s first responders
We often underestimate just how necessary first responders are in a community or town’s day-to-day life. Without paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), who knows how many more lives would be lost every year? Here are some ideas for how you can help the first responders in your area:
- Consider helping connect them with trauma-informed counselors and therapists. First responders often witness some of the most horrifying and traumatic scenes in their lives, with many of them experiencing post-traumatic syndrome (PTSD) because of it. And in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the number of first responders experiencing PTSD might have increased.
- Provide them with the gear and equipment. Give your local fire department some more fireproof or fire-resistant clothing. You can partner with designers to create medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers and ask your local hospital if they need financial assistance to purchase more medical equipment. We can’t always assume these departments are 100 percent well-funded, and private citizens and businesses will do well to donate whatever monetary support or equipment they can.
Donate more than just money
Most people think it’s enough to write a check for a charity and call it a day. While this is better than nothing, we would be better positioned to truly help make lasting changes if we were to do the following:
- Devote time and effort to understanding the systematic and institutional flaws that allow for poverty in the first place. For example, it’s one thing to provide financial assistance to a low-income family, but it’s another to understand why they are living below the poverty line in the first place. Did the global health crisis cause them to lose their source of income? How about the racial or gender disparity that does not privilege them? Understand the issue at the system level, and you might find yourself becoming passionate about changing the laws and not just defaulting to convenient incrementalism.
- Donate your time and energy by spending time with the recipients. They would appreciate you taking the time to understand their predicament more than just the monetary or material support—although that’s crucial too.
- Start small. Don’t expect to change the world with one donation. Start with one family—buy their groceries, or help them enjoy a feast for Christmas. Then maybe next year, you can scale up by inviting more of your friends or family who want to give back too, and you can help more families.
Volunteer at an assisted living facility or a children’s hospital
Giving back this holiday season need not be limited to you shelling out some cash. It can also be about devoting your energy and time to people who are most vulnerable to loneliness during the holidays.
If you are fully vaccinated and if the facility deems it safe, why not consider volunteering for a children’s hospital or an assisted living facility? Ill kids and the elderly can get lonely, too, especially most likely during the COVID-19 crisis when their visitors were most likely limited to protect their safety. Consider spending time in these places, get to know the patients and residents, and allow them the space to spend time with people who have no agenda but to help make them happy even for just one day.
Partner with an organization that’s already efficient at helping
If there is specific advocacy in your heart—whether it’s helping at-risk LGBT+ kids or lobbying for changes in policies—volunteer for non-profit organizations that are already doing an efficient job at these activities. It takes a village to make lasting changes, and if there are already non-profits doing this, you can be another set of hands and feet that can help propel their cause forward.
The holidays can be more than just another consumerist season—you can use this time to help others, too. Do your research, search your heart, and find which causes captivate you and how your skills can help the cause. It would be a meaningful way to celebrate the season of giving.