Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This Christmas, Give Peace & Good Will Toward Men

There was an interesting article in today's Sun-Times about how many non-profit organizations find themselves in a strange predicament: they have too many volunteers.

Around the holidays, many people's most generous side comes out and it seems they all want to work in soup kitchens or at homeless shelters. This overabundance of volunteers is also buttressed by the fact that we have a 10% national unemployment rate. Many people who are unemployed seek to fill their time by volunteering.

Unfortunately, this glut of volunteers is not a year-round problem. During other times of the year, there is a severe shortage of volunteers.

Because Little Merry Sunshine believes strongly in giving back and volunteering, I thought it would be helpful to suggest some alternative volunteer opportunities that are readily available and could use your help right now:
  • Donate blood. LifeSource and other blood donation centers always need extra blood.
  • Food pantries. Call your local food pantry and see what their greatest need is. Many food pantries also take personal care items (deodorant, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, diapers, etc.). These donations are vital because food stamps cannot be used to purchase these items, which can be quite costly. Don't forget that pets are family too and there are food pantries set up for pets.
  • Donate gently used clothing to a local resale shop.
  • Before Santa brings your kids a new bounty of toys, why not get them into the spirit of sharing the wealth by donating some of their gently used toys to resale shops.
  • Toys for Tots accepts new, unwrapped toys and books.
  • Call your local school and see what items they need. I'm sure they all have a wish list.
  • Check out the website for the Random Acts of Kindness Club. They always have fun and easy ways to make a difference in the community.
  • Call your city or township hall and see if they offer Adopt-a-Family programs where you can sponsor Christmas gifts for the entire family.
  • Check with the post office for letters to Santa from kids who are especially needy this year. Fulfill their Christmas wishes.
  • Ask your church secretary about members who need rides to church or are alone during the holidays. Drive them to church or invite them over for Christmas dinner. It's what Jesus would do. Have a goal at your church that no member is alone on Christmas.
  • Take a tray of cookies over to your local police department and/or fire department to thank them for their never-ending hard work all year long. You may not see them doing their jobs, but that's kind of the point. Trust me, they are there when you need them and they work all the holidays.
  • Drop some change in a Salvation Army kettle.
If these ideas don't resonate with you, look around your neighborhood. There are plenty of opportunities to make the world better right your own backyard.
  • Shovel an elderly neighbor's driveway - for free, of course.
  • Are the sidewalks at the corners clear and free of snow piles at the curb for the kids walking to school? Those snow piles from the snow plows become a danger when they turn to ice and the kids have to climb them to climb the street.
  • Shovel your own driveway and sidewalks. This helps kids, the postman, people walking dogs, the elderly walking for fresh air, runners, mom's walking little kids and more.
  • Is there a neighbor who still isn't quite ready for winter and you could offer to help them with their fall clean-up?
  • Do you have a neighbor you know is struggling? Maybe someone has lost a job. What if you anonymously sent them a gift card to the local grocery store or purchased tickets to the local movie theater for the family?
  • Do you know someone struggling after losing a loved one this year? Reach out to them. Don't be freaked out if they cry. The holidays are difficult.
  • Do you know a single mom (or dad) without family in the area? Invite her and her kids to spend Christmas day with you. Offer to take her kids for an afternoon to give her a break and so she can have some personal time.
  • Nursing home residents need love too. Call a local nursing home and find out if there are residents without regular visitors. Go read to them. If they're able, let them tell you their stories. They love the trips down Memory Lane and visitors keep their spirits up. Just remember to be 100% healthy when you visit. Their immune systems are probably not as strong as yours.
Don't forget your own family. Charity begins at home, after all. Who in your extended family could use some extra kindness this year?
  • Did someone lose a job? Collect your siblings together and each donate towards Visa Gift Card or call and offer to pay a bill this month.
  • Is someone getting a divorce or newly divorced? Make sure you let them know they're not alone and you're still there for them. Often people going through divorce feel isolated especially this time of the year. This is especially true for the non-custodial parent. He or she may be spending Christmas Day alone. Invite them over for dinner.
  • Do you have an elderly relative at home, in an assisted-living facility or nursing home? Offer to drive them to the doctor's office, invite them to lunch, or set up a regular visitation schedule. Take old family pictures with you because they will enjoy looking at them. Take them artwork from your kids.
  • Have your kids write Grandma and Grandpa a letter or color some pictures for them.
To me, the holidays are a time to spread peace and good will. No matter how we may each have been affected by the economy this past year, we are each still better off than the majority of the world and many people in our own communities. By reaching out and lifting them up, even in what may seem like insignificant ways, we will not only improve the lives of others, we will feel better about ourselves.

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