Beyond the Soup Kitchen – Ideas for Holiday Volunteering

Toy Drive Donation BoxThe holidays are quickly approaching, which means the feasting season is about to start.  If this time of year for you is anything like mine, the next several weeks will be filled with festive family meals, food-laden celebrations with friends, sweet treats at the office and delicious delicacies almost everywhere you look.  I can’t wait!

This time of year tends to inspire something other than eating too – it inspires people to give a bit of themselves to others.  And, I think because of the close connection between food and the holidays, people frequently gravitate to volunteer opportunities that involve serving meals to those in need.  It is a beautiful thing to do and incredibly rewarding, in fact it’s one of my favorite year-round ways to serve.  But, it’s not the only way to help.

This year, I am going to share myself in some different ways and hope you will do so too.  Here are some thoughts to get us all started.

  • Visit someone who can’t get out – while the holidays are joyous for so many people, they can also be very difficult and lonely for those who are confined to their homes, nursing homes, hospitals or other facilities.  For these folks, one of the biggest gifts you can give them is your presence and a friendly conversation.  I used to do this as a kid with members of my church and can recall how great it made everyone feel.  To do this, simply call local nursing homes and/or hospitals and ask them if you can come in and visit or ask your religious leader.  Or, go share a cup of tea with a neighbor you know won’t have many holiday visitors.
  • Grant the wish of a foster child – there are more than a half million kids living in the foster care system right now.  These kids often have very little to call their own, but there is a great organization, One Simple Wish, that is trying to change that.  Essentially, they allow you to grant the wish of a child in foster care.  From a Barbie Dream House and varsity jacket to an Easy Bake Oven and tricycle, there is a large range of wishes to be fulfilled.  Plus, you can find a wish by gender, age, state and more.  The average wish is just $65, but they start at only $10.  Imagine the kid’s excitement when they get something to call their own!
  • Hold a toy driveToys for Tots is one of my favorite organizations at this time of year.  In case you don’t know, they collect new toys and deliver them to kids in need for Christmas.  You can join them by hosting a toy drive at your home, office, kids school or anywhere else you can think of.  If doing that doesn’t work for you, they offer many other ways to volunteer including helping to sort and transport all of the toys.  I feel like a kid just thinking about this!  Check out their national website, which will connect you with your local opportunities.
  • Turn your festivities into giving events – are you planning a holiday cocktail party, dinner or other get together?  Well, that’s a perfect time to do something for an organization you care about.  Simply select an organization, find out what they need – cash, nonperishable food, toys, etc. – and ask your guests to bring something to contribute.  For example, my partner and I host a large holiday party every year at our home and we put right on the invitation “in lieu of a host gift, please considering bringing a donation for the Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood.”  Much to my delight, my friends open their hearts and checkbooks!

These are just four ideas to help you get started thinking about serving this holiday season beyond the soup kitchen.  Of course, you can certainly still go serve a meal, but why stop there?

If you have more ideas on how to give back at the holidays, please share

Happy Holidays!

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