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7 Ways to Give Back During the Holidays

give back holidays
Rémi Walle

Well, folks, we’ve officially arrived at the beginning of the Holiday Season™. Though widely regarded as the “mOsT wOnDeRfUl TiMe Of ThE yEaR,” I personally find the stretch from Thanksgiving to the New Year incredibly stressful. Yes, I love wintry celebrations. Yes, I love spending time with my family. But something about the gift-giving-capitalistic frenzy of the season makes me want to bury my head in the sand ‘till January.

Since that’s not the most practical solution, I thought maybe I’d approach the season a little differently this year. Instead of stressing out about giving gifts, maybe I could find some creative ways to give back. This list is by no means definitive but should provide you with plenty of fodder to inspire your own charitable ambitions.

Give to Native Causes

One of the easiest ways to give back is by donating money to important causes. With a simple click, you can support organizations, fund initiatives, and get the word out about issues you care about. While you can (and should) funnel cash toward whatever group you want, I’d recommend giving back to a Native or Indigenous cause this holiday season. And not because of some loyalty to the Thanksgiving myth we’re sold from the crib, but in recognition of the systematic oppression still experienced by many indigenous communities in the United States. It’s a drop in a very large bucket, but one that at least acknowledges the major work we as a country need to do to support Native populations.

donation money
Allef Vinicius / Unsplash

There are a ton of different organizations you could give to, but two of my favorites are the First Nations Development Institute, a nonprofit that assists Native American tribes and their communities in economic development, and the American Indian College Fund, which provides scholarships and internship opportunities to American Indian students.

Organize a Group Beautification Project

If your idea of giving back involves tending to the land you live on, why not organize a group beautification project with neighbors and friends? This can be as large or small scale as you like, and could entail cleaning up a local park, planting new flowers on your street, picking up litter along the highway, or fishing for garbage in a river or waterway. My only recommendation is that you keep your ambitions realistic by setting a specific plan, establishing a clear time frame, and getting your supplies ready beforehand.

Send Letters to Soldiers

Another fantastic way to give back is to send letters and gifts of gratitude to those serving in the armed forces. Though it’s easy to sap the humanity out of the military when discussing it as an abstract political concept, it’s important to remember that most soldiers are just normal folks aching for home (and often doing so under far less than favorable conditions).

thank you letter
Kelly Sikkema

You can help soften that longing by teaming up with an organization like Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages and letters to troops overseas. It might seem like an insignificant gesture, but it’s one that’s sure to resonate, especially around the holiday season.

Sponsor a Hungry Family

When you think Thanksgiving, you likely think of food. And understandably so! The holiday is built around the dinner table and often treats caloric excess like a tradition in and of itself. But not every family has the “food privilege” to make this Rockwellian bacchanal a lived reality. If you’re not familiar with food privilege, it’s a concept that refers to one’s ability to actively choose how your food is produced, where it comes from, and how much of it you consume. Basically, if you don’t have to think too much about the groceries you buy, you likely benefit from some healthy food privilege. So, use it to help those who don’t have it by donating food or groceries to families in need. You could give directly to your local food pantry, or partner up with an organization like Family-to-Family, which invites users to “sponsor” families with monthly grocery supplies.

Connect with Single Folks

Sometimes, giving back can be as simple as opening your front door and welcoming people into your home. If you know someone’s celebrating the holiday alone (maybe because they’ve moved to a new city or lost an important family member), invite them over to share dinner with your family. Better yet, make it a new tradition, where members of your gaggle are encouraged to extend invitations to solo-revelers they know from work, school, or life. I spent a few of my Thanksgivings in college as the add-on to a professor’s family celebration and always found the experience incredibly meaningful. Sure, it couldn’t replace the warmth and love I would have felt at my own table, but the kindness deepened my understanding of what Thanksgiving could be about.

Foster an Animal

However, if people aren’t really your thing, you can always extend the hospitality to animals in need.

foster puppy
Josh Sorenson

Though you may not have the wherewithal to adopt a pet, fostering can be an accessible and impactful way to improve the quality of an animal’s life. I’d suggest perusing the internet for local operations in your area or doing a little research on ASPCA. Oftentimes, fostered animals need some TLC before they’re ready to be adopted out, so think of your role as a bridge between shelter life and a permanent forever home.

Write Thank You Notes

Words are powerful, ya’ll, especially when used to give thanks to the people you love. So this holiday, grab a pen and paper and shoot off some personalized messages of gratitude. It may feel a little weird if you’re not used to writing, but I suspect you’ll actually find it pretty easy once you start thinking about all the reasons why you appreciate someone. Don’t worry too much about trying to write beautifully, just write honestly and openly. At the end of the day, it’s about letting a loved one know that you see them, like really see them for exactly who they are.

I hope you have a meaningful (and fun!) holiday season.

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Cody Gohl
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