It’s the most wonderful time of the year—but the truth is for some it isn’t. Many of us take for granted that the holidays include an abundance of family, gift exchanges, and holiday cheer. But there are many who do without or with very little. So with that in mind, let’s explore why it is important to give during the holidays and ways to get involved right in your neighborhood or beyond.
Helping others is hugely empowering. It can make you feel happier and more fulfilled—a feeling that the National Institute of Health dubbed the “warm glow” effect in a 2006 study. The study concluded that charitable giving activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. There is also a growing body of literature on related physical health benefits such as lower rates of high blood pressure, cancer, heart failure, and strengthening of the immune system. Charitable giving also has an appeal for some people as a way to reinforce personal values. So for all the right reasons, charitable giving and generosity of spirit are a good idea at any time—but certainly there is no better time than the holiday season.
While many kids get caught up in the greed of the season (let’s face it, they are bombarded with images and messages), it is a good idea to help them shift the focus outward and allow them to experience the joy in helping others. And it will show them that they can make positive changes in the world and hopefully set the stage for a lifetime of charitable giving. With that in mind, many of the charity activities below can be incorporated into a family tradition.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take a few minutes to think about ways to help your community during the holidays. Create a “kindness list” and post it on the fridge—a good way to remind yourself to take your ideas and put them into action.
- Have an elderly neighbor or know someone who is far away from their own family? It would mean so much to them if you would include them in a holiday meal at your home.
- Know a family struggling financially? Consider providing them with a holiday meal with all the trimmings. One way to do this is to order a pre-packaged family dinner meal through local supermarkets such as Smith’s or Albertsons.
- With the cold weather upon us, volunteer to walk a dog for an elderly, sick, or disabled neighbor.
- Make and distribute holiday cards to seniors, deployed soldiers, or patients in the hospital. There are a whole bunch of people whose day would certainly be brightened with a holiday card. The Holidays for Heroes program is one option for military connections as is Military Missions. You also can get involved with a charity called Cards for Hospitalized Kids that has sent out more than 100,000 cards to hospitalized kiddos in 50 states since being founded in 2011.
- Set up a warm beverage stand—and give the proceeds to a local charity. You know how popular those lemonade stands are in the summer, why not try a hot beverage one (have the kids bundle up) and consider hot cocoa or hot apple cider.
- Pick out a gift for children in need and bring it (unwrapped) to your local State ECU branch by December 15. Each branch is selecting a local charity partner this year.
- Shop for warm socks, gloves, and hats and deliver them to a homeless/emergency shelter. Ask your kids to consider what would be most important for them if they either didn’t have a home or if it wasn’t safe to be at home. Shelters in Santa Fe include Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, St. Elizabeth Sonrisa Family, Youth Shelters & Family Services, and Esperanza Shelter. Shelters in Albuquerque include Steelbridge, Albuquerque Opportunity Center, Joy Junction, Family Promise of Albuquerque, Barrett Foundation and SAFE House. Other shelters include Samaritan House (Las Vegas), Crises Center-Northern New Mexico (Espanola), Heart of Taos (Taos), and Dreamtree Project (Taos).
- Have the family go through collections of books, games, DVDs, etc. and pull out materials to donate to kids and families living in temporary shelters (many above).
- Bake some goodies and deliver them to your local police precinct or fire station.
- Is DIY your thing? Consider making a blanket for charity. Since 1995, Project Linus has provided blankets to more than 7 million kids in need. You are encouraged to contact the three local chapters in New Mexico to find out what blanket types they need the most.
- Animals need our love and attention! Contact local animal shelters to find out their volunteer needs. Maybe it is even the perfect time to shower a pet with love by adopting it—and becoming an animal’s forever family.
- Santa Fe Animal Shelter,
- Espanola Valley Humane Shelter,
- Animal Humane New Mexico,
- Animal Welfare Coalition of Northeastern NM
We wish you a very happy holiday. We understand that the holidays are fun, and crazy, and busy, and joyful. But it is also a good idea to carve out a little time for meaning in the hectic hubbub. Creating a holiday experience that focuses on giving and charity is a positive way to cut through the rampant consumerism and even do good for your own heart and soul!