The best gifts are immaterial. Here are 25 meaningful ways to give back to others and your community this season:
1. Volunteer at a local shelter. Shelters always need extra help, and there’s no better time to pitch in than the holidays. There is always a ton to be done, from prepping meals to answering phones, so you can choose whichever task makes the best use of your talents. Search all New Mexico shelters here.
2. Donate non-perishable food items to a food bank. Most of us have cans of food sitting our pantries that will never get eaten. Box up your extras and deliver them to a local food bank that will in turn give them to families in need. Road Runner Food Bank of New Mexico is a widely known food bank with drop-off locations throughout the state. If you don’t have items already in your pantry, double up on a few of the items on your own shopping list, and then donate those extras.
3. Donate clothes and toys. This is a great opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of giving to those in need. Clean out your closets and toy chests, and donate gently used items to a shelter or other charity organization. Women’s shelters typically really need clothing and toys during the holidays. Search org for a women’s shelter near you.
4. “Adopt a family.” Every year local organizations and churches facilitate holiday assistance programs. These programs match families in need with families or individuals who want to provide them with food and gifts for the holidays. If this is something that interests you, check out Martin’s Hospitality Center (Albuquerque), PB&J Family Services (Albuquerque), or Bienvenidos Outreach, Inc. (Santa Fe). Also ask your local church or religious organization if they have an adopt-a-family program.
5. Ask your company to match a cash donation to the charity of your choice. Many companies budget funds to use at the end of the year in support of employees’ charitable donations. Check to see if your employer has a matching program. It’s a great and easy way to increase the amount of your donation.
6. Tip twice as much. Next time you go out to eat, tip your server twice what you normally would. This is guaranteed to put a smile on his or her face and, who knows, it might inspire him or her to pay it forward.
7. Leave a gift for a child in need under an Angel Tree. Each year the Salvation Army sets up Christmas trees (called “Angel Trees”) decorated with tags bearing the name of a child in need and and their desired Christmas gift. Choose a tag and return it with the requested gift, or donate online. In Santa Fe, there will be an Angel Tree at the Santa Fe Place Mall. For other Angel Tree locations in New Mexico, contact your local Salvation Army.
8.Buy the coffee of the person behind you. While standing in line (or sitting in the drive-thru) ordering a cup of joe, pay for the coffee of the person behind you. A small act of kindness can have a big impact.
9. Cook a little extra for a family in need in your neighborhood. Nothing spreads goodwill like cooking a hot meal for a neighbor. Besides, if you’re already cooking for a big group, it probably won’t cost much extra to cook for a few more people.
10. Support an entrepreneur. Gifts at org help artisans from places like India and Bali build sustainable businesses.
11. Volunteer at an animal shelter. In addition to playing with puppies and kittens, you’ll be caring for animals in need. Check out org.
12. Recycle your laptop. Christmas is a popular time for gifting new computers. Instead of trashing your old one, donate it to com, which will send it to a person who has never owned a computer.
13. Donate blood. Give the most precious gift of all: life. Blood donations are used to treat numerous, often life-threatening conditions.
14. Pay for someone’s layaway anonymously. It’s totally secret, completely selfless, and you never know what it could mean to that person.
15. Run an errand for someone. Do you have an elderly neighbor who has a hard time getting to the grocery store? Does your coworker, who’s a single mom, not have time to pick up her dry cleaning? Lend a helping hand a run the errand for him or her.
16. Speaking of coworkers, do something nice for your least favorite colleague. Let’s be honest: we don’t love everyone we work with, and we probably all have someone we like least of all. So, when is better time than the holidays to put our grown-up pants on and do something nice for that person? It doesn’t have to be a large gesture—maybe just a “job well done” email or copying them on the next group lunch invite. You’ll be surprised how much you both benefit from one small act of kindness.
17. Run a 5K for a good cause. A portion of your registration fee will go toward a charity or cause, and actually running the race will help keep off all those tamales you’ll be eating.
18. Visit a children’s hospital. No child should be sick on Christmas. Help ease their pain by visiting them and bringing them gifts. Maybe even show up in costume.
19. Visit a nursing home. Many elderly people, especially those in nursing homes, feel isolated and excluded from society. Developing stronger connections between these older adults and their community can have tremendous benefits for both young and old.
20. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway. El Niño is supposed to bring lots of snow to Northern New Mexico this winter, so after shoveling out your driveway, do your neighbor’s too. That extra hour or two of work will generate a lifetime of goodwill.
21. Help a veteran. Seek out your local VFW or veterans organization and ask what they need.
22. Assign your kids chores for charity. Pay them a small amount and tell them that half of their earnings will go to the charity of their choice.
23. Tell your child to befriend a less popular kid at school. It can be as simple as sitting with him or her at lunch or making sure someone doesn’t get picked last in P.E.
24. Share a meal with a homeless person. If you need inspiration, follow the example of this Florida cop.
25. Don’t limit acts of kindness to the holidays. In compiling this list, I realized many of the things I’ve included can be done anytime of year. To incorporate more kindness into your life, consider taking the 30 Days of Kindness Challenge, a month-long program that encourages families to perform quick, sponteanous acts of kindness.
What meaningful gifts are you planning on giving this year? Tell me in the comments section below. My hope is that your story will inspire others.