Family and generosity are two of the things Christmas reminds us to celebrate, so volunteering as a family is a natural way to give back during the holiday season. Whether your crew includes little kids, teens or adults only, there are a number of ways your family can volunteer your time and resources at Christmas.
Go ahead and gather some ideas for places and events where your family can volunteer together—then present them to the group and let everyone decide what to pursue. Dragging a sullen kid to a volunteering opportunity against their will doesn't exactly set a cheerful holiday tone.
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Here are a few ways you and your family can give back this holiday season.
Work at a soup kitchen or food pantry
A lot of soup kitchens/meal centers serve hundreds or even thousands of meals per day, 365 days a year. It takes a lot of volunteer labor to make that happen. Christmas is the perfect time for your family to try out a few shifts helping to prepare food, serve hot meals and wash dishes. (One caveat: Volunteer opportunities that involve food typically require that kids be teens.)
If you're willing to shift around your Christmas Day plans, you might even spend part of the day volunteering with an organization that serves free Christmas meals. Not everyone wants to leave home to do volunteer work on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, so soup kitchens and other places that serve free Christmas dinners may be looking for extra hands.
Bear in mind that food banks, soup pantries and food-based nonprofits need year-round volunteer help! If your family is new to volunteering, look for an organization that you might be interested in volunteering with again the future. Maybe you'll start a new weekly or monthly tradition.
Food pantries and food banks also need volunteers to organize donations and put together food boxes for local needy families. Meal service programs like Meals on Wheels might be looking for additional volunteers to help with their holiday meal programs.
Say thanks to your local heroes
The pandemic really highlighted the critical importance of first responders, frontline workers and all the community members who work diligently to take care of others. Your family can brainstorm ways to thank and honor people who have touched your lives in some way over the past year.
Maybe that means dropping off holiday food baskets to the nursing home staff who have taken such good care of an elderly relative, or to your local fire station. If there are people in your neighborhood you want to thank and celebrate, show up with shovels to clear their walkways the next time it snows, or drop off festive poinsettias at their doorway. Or simply spend a few hours creating handmade cards and writing thank-you notes to all your community heroes. Have kids make paper snowflakes or simple handmade tree ornaments to tuck into the cards.
Adopt a family in need
Adopting a local family in need at Christmas is a tangible way for your family to make a real impact on someone else's holiday. This might mean dropping off a few bags of groceries anonymously at their doorstep, or delivering a carload full of food and gifts on Christmas Eve—or something in between. Join forces with another family or your extended relatives to boost your buying power so everyone in your adopted family gets a few things they need.
How do I find families in need to help?
A local agency or nonprofit probably isn't going to give you information about low income families who need holiday assistance, but there are a few ways to find families that could use some extra Christmas cheer this year. For example, if you're a member of a house of worship, a leader there may be able to discreetly point you to such a family.
Your social media connections may also be helpful for finding people in need this Christmas. Maybe a friend knows of a neighbor family that just lost everything in a house fire, or knows of a veteran who's been really struggling this year. Just be very mindful of respecting the privacy and dignity of people in need. In your post, ask friends to contact you privately if they know of someone who could use some holiday assistance rather than share any of this information publicly.
Collect money, toys and other donations
There are so many ways that families can use their resources to make the holiday season a little brighter for other people. Here are just a few ideas for how your family can do its part.
- Kids can do chores to earn money to buy and donate Christmas gifts to Toys for Tots, or buy gifts for an angel tree.
- Have everyone in the family go through their closets to gather up clothing and old coats in good condition to donate to a clothing drive. Ask kids to sort through their toys and books to find some things that they'd be willing to donate to less fortunate kids living in shelters.
- Organize a larger collection drive among friends and family. Spread the word that your family is collecting canned food, lightly used toys, clothing, etc. to donate to a food bank or shelter. Or, collect everyone's recyclable cans and redeem them for money to buy things to donate.
- Sign up as volunteer bell ringers for the Salvation Army's annual Red Kettle campaign. Even the littlest kids can be bell ringers when accompanied by parents.
However your family ends up giving back to your community, spending time together around Christmas will be time well spent!