Nine Ways to Give Back this Holiday Season

by Sarah Little

The messages are everywhere, on the radio, in print… “Remember the Reason for the Season.” As I write this article, we are a few days away from “Black Friday” and all of the commercialism that comes along with it; stores will open on Thanksgiving day, earlier and earlier, forcing their staff to sacrifice time with their loved ones and shoppers will converge to capture those must-have gifts marked down to make their holiday dollars go a little further.  Some people like the rush of Black Friday- for some it’s an event, even a tradition.  But after the dust settles down, and you’ve knocked out a portion of your shopping list, here are a few ideas for ways to give back a little this holiday season that you might not have thought of.

  1. Anonymous giving: Helping someone without getting credit for it can be some of the most rewarding and selfless things you can do this holiday season. Whether it’s dropping your change or bills into the red buckets at the doors of businesses around town, or a warm loaf of cranberry bread you leave on your neighbor’s doorstep, you can brighten someone’s day without the nod.
  2. Over-tipping: Wait staff, stylists, taxis, and hotel staff all are just as stressed as you are while you’re making your way through the holiday season—if not more. A little extra tip on your ticket can certainly make the difference between a tired and hassled shift, and making someone’s day or night. Most of these people are working extra hard to help make your holiday just a little more special, so why not show the appreciation in return by bumping up your usual tip a bit?
  3. Make a gift of last year’s decorations: While your heirloom or memory decorations or ornaments are certainly keepsakes you don’t want to part with, there are probably some wreathes, garlands, baubles and bells you haven’t put out for a few years. Why burden your storage space when you can help someone start traditions of their own by donating your unused decorations. Do you know a young couple that is just starting out? Perhaps a single parent that is stretched thin? An even better gift would be to help them put up decorations that you are giving and share a new memory.
  4. Remember those without homes this year: Three times so far this fall, I’ve seen posts from friends who have seen someone who needs a little help and have answered the call. One friend posted a great idea that I’d like to share. She made a care package to keep in her car so that when she saw someone who might benefit from it, she could give her package away. In it she packed warm socks, tissues, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, soap, adhesive bandages, cotton swabs, shampoo and a few nonperishable snack items.  Another idea is to keep an extra blanket in the car that you can give to someone in need—whether it’s because they are homeless or you happen to find yourself on the scene of a winter accident.  Small tokens of warmth are a great way to spread the love this holiday season.
  5. Volunteer your time: Many local organizations are stretched thin covering time off this time of year. Offer your time to a cause you feel passionate about. Or, do you know a single parent that needs a little help babysitting so she can do shopping without the kids around? Wrapping presents, snow shoveling, and other small tasks can be taxing to the elderly near you. Offer to get that tree or decorations down from the attic for them, rake leaves, shovel snow or help pick up winter debris for someone near you. A small favor can go a long way to building kinship in your neighborhood. Also, this time of year is a particularly lonely time for guests in nursing homes or assisted living centers. Gather a group of friends and arrange a time to do a card drop, caroling or visit to those who might need a little extra cheer.
  6. Support Local Artists and Stores: When you are shopping this holiday season, remember your small businesses and local artists for unique, one-of-a-kind gifts. Money spent at local businesses is reinvested at a much higher rate into your own community. Stillwater has some fantastic local artists and venues where you can purchase handmade items, as well as many great local businesses that support YOUR schools and community!
  7. Donate to local charities: Many people make most of their monetary donations at the end of the year, both for giving and tax purposes. Do a little research and find those organizations whose mission you can align yourself with and who are good stewards of the donation. When you contribute to local organizations, you can see a return on your investment right here in Stillwater. For more information, see our article on “Giving Tuesday.”
  8. Say thank you to those who serve: This year, like every year, we have many people who serve our community, our state, and our country, both home and abroad. Say Thank You to those who are giving up their time to protect your freedom. Whether it’s a simple phrase spoken when you pass someone on the street, or you go a step further and send cards, letters or care packages to troops overseas, our military personnel, police and firefighters give up time with their families to protect life for yours.
  9. Be a friend to an animal in need: If you have a soft spot for the furry kind, there are a few ways you can help. Volunteer at Stillwater Humane Society. From dog walking to cleaning volunteers can always be needed. You can also consider adopting an animal in need, or at least fostering one over the holiday season.