6 Ways to get Involved in your Community During the Holidays

The other day, I heard on the radio that Katie Holmes spent over $50,000 on Christmas presents for her daughter, Siri. She bought her a Ralph Lauren dress, a kid-sized Mercedes Benz toy car, and a $30,000 Victorian home play house. Yeah, I wasn’t too happy when I heard the news, to say the least.

In fact, I was sick to my stomach.

$50,000 on Christmas presents for your one daughter? There are millions and millions of children in the world who don’t get to experience Christmas joy. Forget about not getting a present, they don’t even get to be with their families, sit around a table enjoying Christmas ham, sit on Santa’s lap, nothing. And Katie Holmes spent this much money on superficial things that this child is going to outgrow in a matter of years.

As a member of Kiwanis (similar to Rotary and Lions club) since I was 13 years old, volunteering and giving back is always on my mind during the Holidays. Every year I try not to take for granted how much I have been blessed with when I could have easily been born into a family who doesn’t get to experience Christmas joy. So, because of all this, I decided to share with all of you somethings you can do to get involved and help out during the holidays. I hope along the way you are inspired to help.

1) Toys for Tots
This just may be my favorite way to get involved during the holidays. While you’re out buying presents for your loved ones, pick up an extra toy or two for kids who aren’t as blessed to receive Christmas presents. Their mission statement says it all:

The primary goal of Toys for Tots is to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.

Wallgreens stores (which happens to be where a great place to get stocking stuffers) around the country are collecting gifts to distribute to children. This makes it super easy to help out! Or if you feel like you don’t want anything for Christmas, ask your close friends and family friends for a toy to donate to Toys for Tots, perhaps in your family’s name.

2) Holiday Coalition
I used to volunteer for the Holiday Coalition every Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was in high school and it was one of the most rewarding things I did as a teenager. Holiday Coalition is a giant hub of goods that individuals have dropped off food and clothes for less fortunate families. We prepackaged meals in brown paper bags so families can easily come in, grab a bag, and go on to the next station. We also organized the clothes section and the toys section. Then, before Christmas, families come in to gather their meals, presents, and winter clothes so they can make Christmas even more special. It’s really a great cause! (This may be called something different in your area, but this is what it’s called in mine. If you’re from Northern Virginia, Loudoun County has a great program!)

3) Donate canned goods

During the holidays, we make countless number of trips to the grocery store. Even if you feel like you are in such a rush and you have a million things to take care of, just spent an extra 2 minutes in the canned food aisle and grab a couple of items to donate. This time of year especially, churches and private organizations are collecting nonparishable items and have set up donation sites all over your local area. If you have an extra second, call up local donation centers and see what they are in need of (in my experience, they are always in need of Peanut butter and tuna!).

4) Prepare an extra meal to donate to a homeless shelter

While you’re preparing your holiday ham, why not make an extra one and donate it to the shelter? Or even an extra mashed potatoes, cheesecake, cookies, anything you can whip up! A couple months ago, a group of my friends and I made over 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our local homeless shelter. Their faces brightened instantly and all the manager said was, “they are going to love these.” If PB&Js could brighten their day, imagine what a holiday meal could do!

5) Salvation Army

The Salvation Army has tons of bases around the country that can always use help sorting out their inventory, taking donations, and bell ringing. They have an electronic database for them to keep track of their inventory and so they need tons of volunteers. Less fortunate families are able to come in and tell them how old their kids are and then they pick out toys for them! They have things from bikes, to dolls, to video games! It’s a wonderful organization and they have shelters all over the country. Check out their website HERE to find one closest to you!

6) Find out what your local area needs

A simple Google search for “homeless shelter” or “food drive” and your zip code and tons of options will come up. From there, most of these sites list “current needs,” which include financial needs (mortgage, gas, administration, etc.), volunteer needs (upcoming events and opportunities), and wish lists (toilet paper, diapers, umbrellas, flashlights, medicine, etc.).

By the way, if you’re not sure where your local homeless shelter, donation site, toys for tots drop off site, or any other holiday volunteering opportunity is, a Google search with your zipcode will show you the way instantly!

So maybe we don’t all have $50,000 laying around to help out the less fortunate. This is why I have so much respect for celebrities like Ellen Degenerous who selflessly donate to the community, support our troops and global causes. Regardless of how much money you have, or how much time you think you don’t have, a little goes a long way. And just remember that more than money, your presence makes the biggest difference during the holidays.

And as for Katie Holmes, I just hope that she donates those toys when Siri grows out of them.

Happy Holidays! Much luv,

-Avi

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