How many of you do a lot of holiday shopping online? If you have boxes from Amazon or other retailers piling up at your home, wait a moment before you simply toss those boxes into the recycling bin. With the Give Back Box platform, you can fill a box with items for donation, print a prepaid shipping label, and then ship the items to your nearest Goodwill. Donating unwanted items has never been so easy!
Unless you are connected with someone in the armed forces, you may not realize the impact a spouse or parent being deployed has on a family. Operation Homefront understands the challenges service members, wounded veterans, and their families face and is dedicated to providing assistance. Over the years, this organization has been helping American military families through an array of programs; two of my favorites are their Holiday Toy Drive and Holiday Meals for Military programs. Read on for more details on how Operation Homefront assists military families during the holidays and how you can get involved.
Holiday Toy Drive
The Holiday Toy Drive runs through November and December of each year. With the support of several sponsors and generous donations from folks like you, Operation Homefront has been able give the gift of Christmas to countless children. There are several ways to get involved with this toy drive, such as donating toys, setting up a collection bin at your workplace or church, helping distribute toys, or becoming a volunteer. To learn more, click here.
Holiday Meals for Military
In 2015, Operation Homefront provided 8,500 meals to military families nationwide and is on track to provide more than 12,000 meals this year! For folks who are struggling to make ends meet, this generosity makes a world of difference. The season seems brighter when they experience glimmers of hope thanks to kind-hearted souls. Click here to locate a food drive near you and see a list of upcoming events.
Give to a Specific Need
Operation Homefront maintains a list of people’s needs that require urgent assistance, and each need has a monetary goal to which you can donate (similar to a GoFundMe campaign). For example, if someone needs help paying their mortgage, you can donate any amount towards that campaign. Maybe you yourself know what it’s like to have your utilities cut off or to have the threat of foreclosure looming over your head. However you decide to give, your tax-deductible donation will make a world of difference in another’s life. Click here to see the needs list and find one (or more!) that speaks to you.
Other Ways to Give
There are various other ways you can get involved with this admirable charity, now and throughout the year. If you are specialized in a service-based line of work (e.g., handyman, mechanic, accountant), you can donate your time and abilities. Federal employees can donate by withholding a portion of their paychecks. For a full list of ways to donate to Operation Homefront, click here.
For some, the holidays are filled with potlucks, cookie swaps, and big family dinners, but at the same time other families struggle to simply put food on the table. Living in a state of food insecurity where one doesn’t have consistent access to enough affordable, nutritious food would be distressing any time of year, but I imagine it’s especially difficult during what is supposed to be a joyful season.
Each year millions of hungry people turn to food banks for meals and pantry staples, and this Christmas you could lend a helping hand by donating to your local food bank. Whether you decide to pick up a few extra items at the grocery store or host a food drive at the office, your donation would assist those who need it most.
What Food Should You Donate?
If you would like to donate food, it would be best to call your local food bank to find out what their specific needs are, as that can vary from region to region and month to month. Food banks prefer to receive nonperishable, nutrient-dense foods, especially those that are low in salt and sugar. If you plan to scour your pantry for items to donate, make sure to check the expiration dates because food banks will not accept items that are past their expiration. Do not give glass containers [they are harder to transport and store], and canned goods with pop-tops are best since some of the people receiving the food will not have access to a can opener.
Below you will find a list of some items that are many times in need. I’ve also created a printable list that you can take on your shopping trip to make things extra easy for you
Dry whole wheat pasta
Whole grain cereal
Whole grain crackers
Vegetables & Fruits:
Canned vegetables [low sodium]
Pasta sauce [low sodium]
Canned fruits [no sugar added]
Dried fruits [no sugar added]
Shelf-stable 100% vegetable juice
Shelf-stable 100% fruit juice
Dried beans, lentils or peas
Canned beans [low sodium]
Canned soups, stews, or chili [low sodium]
Peanut butter or other nut butters
Disaster supplies [MREs, emergency kits, etc.]
Donate Holiday Food Items
Besides the more essential donation ideas listed above, since we are in the Christmas season, you could also donate holiday food items so that even those who are food insecure can enjoy a festive meal. Remember, these items should still be nonperishable and low in salt and sugar.
Food banks will also always appreciate monetary donations. The volunteers at the bank will best know that their needs are at any given time, so that takes the guesswork out of deciding what to purchase at the grocery store. Plus, many food banks have food industry partners that are quite generous, so every dollar they receive has 5 times the buying power. That means every $1 you donate equals $5 worth of food.
Find a Food Bank Near You
There are food banks all across the United States and Canada—in both large metro areas such as Ottawa and NYC, as well as in more rural areas like Western Michigan.
Let’s stop for a moment and think what it would be like to live without food. Not only would we feel hungry, but it would be difficult to focus at work or school. For children, the effects of hunger are more far-reaching as it stunts their growth and development. Did you know that 1 in 5 children in America face hunger? And that statistic worldwide is 1 in 4! Feed The Children is on a mission to make sure all children are fed.
Poverty is the biggest reason for hunger, and in addition to providing food, Feed The Children aims to end the cycle of poverty. They have programs in the U.S. and around the world that provide education, living essentials, and disaster relief programs.
With donations from folks like you, Feed The Children boxes up food and essential supplies and distributes the boxes to families in need. Food provides nourishment for children’s growing bodies, and things as basic as soap and toothbrushes allow children to go to school clean and confident. When children and families have their basic needs met, they then have the strength, health, and opportunity to be successful!
Wondering how you can help? There are several ways you can get involved with this organization.
Give a Gift in Someone’s Honor
A great way to make a charitable donation and give your family a gift is to buy a present in their honor. To do so, browse Feed The Children’s gift catalog. When you purchase a gift, the item goes to a person in need, and the honorary recipient gets the pleasure of helping someone. Some gift ideas include sending school supplies to a child, providing medicine for 500 children, or supplying a family with chickens that will provide eggs for food and income. If you’re having a hard time choosing a gift, you can always give a gift where it is most needed. Simply click here, and scroll to the bottom of the page until you see the pink stripe that says, “Give a gift to help where needed most…”
When you give a gift in someone’s honor, you’ll want to give the honorary recipient something, so take advantage of the printable holiday cards Feed The Children has to offer. There are six different holiday cards that are available for you to download for free and print at home. (Click here to view, download, and print.)
Whether you live in the U.S. or not, there are several different ways to volunteer. Just a few examples include helping prep and pack boxes in a distribution center or greeting families and passing out boxes at food distribution event. To learn more about volunteering within the U.S., click here.
If you enjoy traveling and want to volunteer on the global front, then you might be interested in volunteering at one of Feed The Children’s offices worldwide. This volunteer experience can last 1–2 weeks, and you’ll be helping Feed The Children’s employees strengthen their communities. To learn more about this volunteer opportunity, click here.
Last November, the outdoor recreation and sporting goods retailer REI did something rather unheard of. On Black Friday, they closed all of their stores and paid their 12,000 employees to spend time outside. They dubbed this campaign #OptOutside, and they encouraged everyone else to join them in the great outdoors instead of at the shopping mall. What a refreshing idea!
This year I’m thrilled to report that REI has partnered with Subaru, and together they are inviting dog lovers to #OptOutside with their pups this Friday. I simply cannot think of a better way to spend a day than being outside enjoying nature with my best friend—my basset hound—so I’m all for this. If you need help deciding what to do with your pup, check out REI’s list of dog-friendly activities.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was established 150 years ago, making it the oldest humane society in the United States. As the President & CEO of the ASPCA Matthew Bershadker said, their “focus is to get pets out of shelters and keep them in homes, while increasing the protections of animals under the law. We are helping to shape a society that continuously improves the lives of animals.”
True to their motto—“We are their voice”—the ASPCA strives to make lives better for animals in a variety of ways. They work with the government to enact and enforce animal protection laws, perform spay/neuter operations across the country, run an adoption centre in NYC, transport animals to shelters, save animals from horrible conditions, and much, much more. Working to protect those who have no voice is a noble mission indeed.
I truly hope that everyone will venture outdoors with their dogs this Friday to pause and enjoy the beauty of nature. If you do, don’t forget to post a photo on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook using the #OptOutside and #MakeADogsDay hashtags to help raise money for the ASPCA! Additionally, if you want to give more to the animals, you can always donate to the ASPCA in honour of a loved one or host a Holiday Campaign.
When I heard about what the good folks at Mobile Loaves & Fishes were doing, I knew I just had to share. This non-profit serves meals to the homeless and the working poor every single day of the year. Not only do they provide quality, fresh food, they also provide other items we may typically take for granted: clothing, toiletries, relationships, and opportunities.
Since the organization’s inception in 1998, they have served over 4 million meals! As you can imagine, it takes a lot of dedicated people to make that happen. In fact, more than 18,000 volunteers have rolled up their sleeves to help over the years. How do they do it, you ask? They prep the yummy fares, load up the food truck, and then make several stops around the Austin, Texas area.
Serving food and basic necessities is not all that Mobile Loaves & Fishes does for the metro Austin community. They are actively striving to build community and supply people with means to reestablish themselves through their Genesis Gardens, Community First!, and Community Works programs. This short video sums up their mission and the impact that Mobile Loaves and Fishes has on impoverished people’s lives.
To learn more about volunteering for this admirable organization, click here. If the work of Mobile Loaves & Fishes speaks to you, consider supporting them by making a tax-deductible donation online.
For most of us, our basic necessities are met, and we can easily access the other things we need. But for many others around the world, resources are limited, and they need a helping hand to get back on their feet. That’s where Kiva comes in.
Kiva is on a mission to alleviate poverty by supporting people around the globe. How does it work? People like you lend money through Kiva to help impoverished people grow or start their business, or help with education costs. The loans are dispersed through Kiva’s Field Partners, which are microfinance institutions who interact directly with the lendees. When the lendees repay their loans, you can either withdraw your money or loan it again. In the spirit of giving, we are naturally in favor of lending it again to another person.
Giving is easy and fun! When you visit Kiva.org, you can choose who you want to lend the money to. If you love South American culture, you can choose an artisan or other small business owner that interests you. Have you always wanted to visit Africa? Perhaps you’d like to choose someone from Kenya or Nigeria—or any other country, for that matter! In this way, you can support people and business that are special to you.
If you want to join the millions who lend through Kiva, there are several ways to get involved.
Give Kiva Goods as Christmas Gifts
Visit the Kiva Store to purchase gifts, such as a water bottle or iPhone case. Sales from the store help support the organization as they spread the word about Kiva.
Create a Campaign
Instead of asking for presents for Christmas (or any other life event: birthday, graduation, etc.), ask your friends and family to donate to your Kiva campaign. Learn how to start a Kiva campaign here.
Send a Kiva Card
If you know someone who doesn’t need anything for Christmas, then sending a Kiva Card is great way to give your loved one a meaningful gift! When you give a Kiva Card, the recipient can hop on Kiva’s website and choose who they want to receive the loan. The great thing about this is that the recipient can pick a lendee who inspires them. If you’re giving a Kiva Card to a family, I’m certain the children would enjoy selecting who they lend the money to! Plus, because Kiva has such a high repayment rate, the family can lend the money again and again, making this a gift that really does keep on giving.
Dedicate a Kiva Loan
Dedicating a Kiva Loan in honor of a loved one or in someone’s memory is another way to give. There are two big differences between a dedicated loan and a Kiva Card. The first is that you select the recipient of the loan, which means that the recipient doesn’t have to do anything to redeem the gift. The second difference is that when the loan is repaid, the funds convert to a donation to Kiva (instead of being returned to the lender). Personalize a dedicated loan to fit the personality of the recipient: for the coffee fanatic, give a coffee loan; for someone with a sweet tooth, give a bakery loan; for your bestie who loves to travel, give a loan that reminds her of a favorite destination.
There are a few different ways you can volunteer for Kiva, and the easiest way is to volunteer from your own home! Kiva’s Review and Translation Program is operated by folks who volunteer their time translating and reviewing loan profiles. For others who desire a more hands-on approach, click here to learn about Kiva’s Internship Program and Fellowship Program.
Take a moment to imagine your life without clean water. The thought is kind of hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? Well, for many folks, it’s a reality, as 663 million people on this planet [1 in 11!] do not have access to clean, safe water. But charity: water hopes to change that for the better.
On a mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations, charity: water has already funded more than 16,000 water projects in 24 countries since being founded in 2006! Water projects such as hand-dug and drilled wells, rainwater catchments, water purification systems, and more have brought clean water to 5.2 million people.
When charity: water helps folks gain easy access to clean drinking water, many wonderful things happen in their community: health improves, medical expenses lower, equality is increased, girls get more time in school, and women are given the chance to grow food or earn income. How incredible is that? As charity: water’s slogan says, water changes everything.
If you would like to get involved with this admirable organization, there are several ways to do so.
Give in Honour of a Loved One
For a more unique gift this Christmas, honour a loved one by making a donation to charity: water in their name. The recipient will receive a lovely card explaining your gift and charity: water’s mission. It’s a great present for the person who already has everything!
Purchase charity: water Goodies as Gifts
If you still have more Christmas shopping to do, consider purchasing some of the goodies from charity: water’s store to give to your family and friends. The profits from your purchase help fund charity: water’s operating costs and helps them grow, plus they offer some fun items! Here are a few of my favourites:
If you’re in the New York City area, you can volunteer to hand-write thank you notes, help out at special events, and more.
charity: water follows a 100% model, meaning that 100% of public donations funds clean water projects. They depend on private donors, foundations, and sponsors to cover salaries and other operating costs, so all of your donation will go directly to a water project! Click here to give a donation to support clean water around the world.
It all started in 1980 with Chris, a seven-year-old boy with leukemia. His dream was to be a police officer, so family friends and members of the community pulled together to make his dream come true. He received a custom-made officer’s uniform and hat, earned motorcycle officer’s wings, rode in a helicopter, but shortly thereafter, Chris passed. As the story of Chris’ wish spread, it inspired a group of officers, friends, and family to start an organization. Later that year, Make-A-Wish was formed.
Here’s a video that describes Chris’ story more in depth:
Today, Make-A-Wish’s vision is as strong as it was over 30 years ago, and this vision is fueled by the belief that granting wishes of severely ill children fills them with joy and helps them to feel like a normal kid again. But granting wishes is so much more than just making a child happy—the impact of a fulfilled wish has a far-reaching impact! Such positive experiences help kids feel stronger, enabling them to fight their illnesses and face certain medical treatments.
In 2014 alone, Make-A-Wish granted 14,000 wishes, which averages out to one every 38 minutes! While that is certainly a lot of wishes, this covers only about half of all eligible children. Make-A-Wish wants to be able to grant a wish to every eligible child.
Volunteer at Your Local Chapter
As you can imagine, it takes a lot of help to grant wishes to so many children, which is why volunteers and donors are so instrumental in carrying out Make-A-Wish’s mission. If you’re interested in volunteering, consider this: Volunteering takes on many different roles and tasks, so use your strengths and talents to find a volunteering project that suits you. The easiest way to find volunteer opportunities is to check out your local chapter’s website. You can search for a chapter here.
If you’re looking for a ridiculously fun Christmas activity for the family, why not support a charity at the same time? The Ugly Sweater Run is being held in 18 cities across the nation, and it raises funds and awareness for Save the Children. This year, Save the Children is asking people to make the world better with a sweater. What better way to do that than to don your ugliest, merriest, or wooliest Christmas sweater in a 5K?
On race day, participants will enjoy an array of festivities along the 5K route: a giant inflatable Santa, refreshment stations where you can gulp down hot cocoa (you gotta keep your stamina up, right?), snow machines, and tons of other folks walking alongside you. Perhaps you’ll make a new friend and boldly belt out Christmas songs together! Oh, and how could I not mention that awesome knit hat? It’s included in your registration, and the only way to get one is by participating in this run.
Who can come to the run?
The Ugly Sweater Run welcomes participants of all ages! Kids under 5 years are free to attend, but if they want a hat, you’ll need to add it onto your registration. Parents are welcome to bring strollers to push their mini-me’s through the race. Decorated strollers are a plus! Even your furry, four-legged children are welcome to attend the race. (Double-check that the venue in your city allows it.)
Do I have to run?
Haha—no! You can walk, jog, run, skip, or jump your way through the course. Just be mindful of everyone’s safety. After you get through the course, stick around because they’ll give out prizes for the best mustache, best beard, and ugliest sweater.
How can I register?
A few runs are being held this weekend, and the rest will happen later this month. (So sorry to the folks in Pittsburgh, Seattle, and the Twin Cities, but your dates have already passed!) Click on your city below to register. You can register in person at the event, but only if the race hasn’t sold out, so go ahead and sign up online to reserve your spot in the merriest 5K of the season!
Unable to attend The Ugly Sweater Run? You can still make a difference in children’s lives by simply donating to Save the Children online. If you’re aching for a festive experience you can celebrate National Ugly Sweater Day on December 18th. Get your coworkers to wear their ugly Christmas sweaters to the office that day and encourage folks to make a small donation to Save the Children.