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a little spot of light…

December 11, 2013



It’s that time of year when thoughts turn to charitable giving and helping others. Yeah, I know, we should think about these things year round…and some of us do…but for whatever reason, this is the time of year it seems to be the most prevalent.

Unfortunately for many of us, it is also the time of year we are least likely to have extra money laying around.  So…I thought I’d offer a few ideas that are free or cheap, and a few that maybe cost a little bit more….


1) Volunteer to baby sit for a single parent.  Whether it’s while they work that double shift at Walmart or while they go grocery shopping, knowing that their child is safe and occupied (take them to a movie, teach them a craft, help them with homework) is a welcome gift during the crazy time of year.

2) Volunteer a few hours at the local food bank or soup kitchen.

3) Clean up a neighborhood park.

4) Organize a community food drive where you live or work.

5) Donate knitted/crocheted/otherwise crafted hats, mittens, scarves, blankets to homeless shelters.  Or to the homeless on your streets.

6) Hold a door for someone struggling with bags, kids, strollers, wheelchairs, etc.

7) Know someone struggling financially this season?  Make them dinner.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  It doesn’t have to be “charity”.  Just, “Hey, why don’t you and your husband come for dinner tonight.”

8) Know someone struggling emotionally this season? Visit them.  Hug them.  Talk to them.  Sit with them in silence and hold their hand.

9) Live or work somewhere with a high homeless population?  Pick up a package or two (or ten) of new socks and offer them when you pass someone living on the street.  Warmth is hard to come by out there, and feet often bear the brunt of it.

10) Doing some holiday baking?  Make a little extra of everything and put together boxes to drop off at police stations, fire stations, shelters, etc.  Although, this is easier to do if you already have a rapport with folks at the location.  People can be wary of home made goods.

11) Got a little more money to work with?  Surprise a struggling neighbor or family member by paying their gas or electric bill.  This can sometimes take work, but generally with the name on the account and the address, you can pay a bill that isn’t yours.

12) Or, pick up $10, $20, $25 gift cards for your local grocery store to hand to homeless folks.  A stack of $5 Starbucks cards make for easy tips to harried waitstaff (on top of your tip). 

13) Have multicultural friends who maybe don’t celebrate the same holidays or come from very diverse backgrounds?  Host a pot luck and ask each person to bring a traditional dish that their family might have served at a celebratory winter meal and a note card explaining what it is, what culture it’s from, etc.

14) Know a kid or teenager that dreams of being a writer or an artist or a singer or an athlete?  Give them a gift that speaks to that dream…a refurbished laptop, re-purposed tools, a used instrument, repaired sporting equipment.  Perhaps the most meaningful gift I’ve ever been given was a refurbished typewriter when I was fifteen.  Someone found it in the church basement and had it cleaned up, repaired and it was under my tree Christmas morning.

It doesn’t take a lot of money, just a little thought.  It’s important to consider the person you are gifting to and give them something meaningful to them, something they can use, something that won’t end up costing them more money to use.  Let’s face it, if you give someone a ten dollar gift card to someplace like Sears or JC Penneys, they’re going to need to spend money to make use of it.  That same ten dollars at a grocery store can get them food or toothpaste or toilet paper.

It’s the dark time of the year, when the nights are long and the days short. A little spot of light carries a long, long way…

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