20 Ways to Help Others This Holiday Season

posted: 12/22/15
by: TLCme

My six-year-old daughter, Maia, was carefully cutting up circulars and gluing pictures into her fourth letter to Santa. Eleven-year-old, Chet, and fourteen-year-old, Ava, were complaining they really needed to know if they were getting the items on their Christmas list emails, so they could make other arrangements (meaning: nag us some more). I decided to change our focus. I love holiday list-making and shopping as much as the next person, but because of the kids' relative lack of funds to buy presents for others and their experience of Christmas as a kid-centered holiday, they need extra encouragement and reminders about focusing on others this holiday season.

To get started, here are 20 ways to try helping those less fortunate this holiday season:

1. Go Caroling. Singing door-to-door is a great, free way to spread holiday cheer. With younger kids, be realistic. We aim for about six houses and 2-3 songs.

2. Write letters of appreciation. If money is too tight to grab gift cards to express appreciation for teachers and coaches, try helping kids to pen longer letters and cards detailing their thanks. You may actually be creating a gift that will be saved for years.

3. Encourage crafty gifts. Making a present at home at the crafting/folding table or at your local pottery shop can make the process and the gift more meaningful for the giver and the recipient.

4. Shovel for a neighbor. Offering up your family's elbow grease to help a neighbor is a great example of selfless holiday spirit. You will get some extra exercise and feel great about helping out. Plus your neighbor will be eternally grateful.

5. Make and deliver anonymous cards. My daughter loves to make holiday cards with markers, paint, and stickers, so we decided to spread the wealth and deliver some of them to mailboxes in our neighborhood from "Secret Santa."

6. Shop for a family in need. Call your local town hall to find out about organizations in the community that offer holiday shopping for families in need. Often you can receive the wish list from a specific child and go shopping for them. If you buy a few extra toys at a great sale, check Toys for Tots to find drop box locations.

7. Plan a gift list for loved ones. After creating voluminous letters to Santa, set aside the same amount of time to make lists of gifts to give to others. Talk to your kids about what each person might like to receive. My daughter tries to get everyone stuffed bears with their name on them.

8. Put together a gift bag of small toy items for a child in need. If you don't have the funds this holiday season to buy big gifts for someone in need, put it on your list for the "off" season. Cheerful Givers provides birthday bags filled with toys to children in homeless shelters year-round.

9. Volunteer to help serve a meal in a soup kitchen. This can be an incredibly rewarding family activity if your kids are old enough, so block off an afternoon when everyone is free.

10. Bake and deliver holiday treats to friends and family. If you have skills in the baking department, make more and share the wealth!

11. Prepare and deliver a meal. If you have an elderly or sick neighbor, or just a busy mom, plan to cook a meal with the kids and deliver it down the street. You can also call a local church to locate someone in need in your area.

12. Become enthusiastic holiday greeters. We have a contest in our family to see who can wish the most "happy holidays" on family outings. The kids have a blast and leave entire stores full of people smiling.

13. Keep a chart of good deeds. Post a paper, chart or board where the kids can write their good deeds. Seeing them in print and reading each others helps to validate the good feelings small deeds can generate.

14. Ask an elderly neighbor if they need help decorating. Our kids loved decorating our house and tree, but they finished in a few hours. If you have a neighbor who could use help, offer your services.

15. Dig out used clothes and toys to donate. This is a great time of year to go through toy boxes and closets to donate used items to a charity like Goodwill or Salvation Army.

16. Visit a local nursing home. Many elderly people get lonely around the holidays if they don't have family living locally. Call a local nursing or retirement home and offer to read or just bring the kids with candy canes and holiday wishes.

17. Collect canned goods for your local food pantry. Kids of any age can help with this type of volunteering, stacking cans and dropping them off.

18. Talk to older kids about volunteer interests. If your tween loves writing, suggest joining an Amnesty International letter writing campaign. If they love gardening, inquire about volunteering at a local community garden.

19. Offer babysitting services for free. Offer to watch your friend's children while they shop. And if you have older children, encourage them to offer babysitting "gifts" or "gift certificates." This can also be a good way for younger teens to prove themselves as good sitters for friends and neighbors.

20. Practice shopping and buying nothing for yourself. I find this difficult myself--not so much the buying but the looking. So it's important to impress on kids before you enter the store the goal is to only look and ask about gifts for others!