Giving, Thanksgiving, and Wanting to Help

Of all the days of the year, Thanksgiving is when the most people seem to want to volunteer in the United States.

It’s tempting.  In addition to rampant consumerism, we are told that the holidays are about giving back the spirit of man, and spreading goodwill.  It’s a wonderful sentiment, and one that’s well worth pursuing (though, honestly, it’s well worth pursuing all year round), but on Thanksgiving, organizations tend to get swamped with volunteers, more so than they could possibly need.  So, if you have not yet committed to volunteering on Thanksgiving, maybe there are other ways you can give back this holiday season.

First off, you can commit to volunteering after Thanksgiving, through Christmas, through New Years, heck, maybe for several months.  There are LOTS of worthy organizations in need of volunteers all the time, from food kitchens and homeless shelters to domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. You also don’t have to focus on homelessness during the holidays (though it is nice): organizations like the Red Cross still need volunteers, and local religious organizations often need people to help out with social action projects like food drives, coat drives, and fundraisers.  If you are looking for places to try to volunteer, please consider checking out our Opportunities for Activism page, which includes several paths for volunteering, or websites like Idealist or VolunteerMatch, which can help you locate opportunities that fit your needs, skills, and interests.

You can also organize or donate to holiday drives, to help out those who are less fortunate.  Probably the most fun of these (though the seemingly silliest) are toy drives, but if you’re hesitant, remember that toy drives aim to give hope, happiness and a sense of inclusion to sick and low-income kids.  Imagine being the only one who didn’t get presents for Christmas?  The most famous of these is Toys for Tots, but you can also look into donating directly to your local hospital, or see if anyone around you is organizing a toy drive-~-a church, a synagogue, a school, a Harry Potter Alliance chapter (side note: that is, in fact, the link for my chapter’s toy drive).  You can also obviously organize or donate to a food drive, but if you’re considering donating to a food pantry or other food drive this holiday season (or ever), please consider donating the following:

  • Spices: food pantries never ask for these, but a lot of cheap food is also plain food.  And, you can buy these (at least basic spices like pepper, oregano, cinnamon) at the dollar store, if you want to donate some.
  • Toiletries: soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, these things make a difference and they aren’t usually the go-to for donations
  • Canned meat: lots of people think to donate canned vegetables, but some (not all) food pantries struggle to provide enough protein.  Spam, canned chili, tuna, or canned chicken can all help people, as can things like jerky.
  • Baby supplies: diapers, baby wipes, baby food, formula-~-again, these things make a difference for families in need
  • Sanitary products: imagine not being able to afford these?
  • Soup packets: an article I read pointed out that once someone has all that rice and canned beans, it can help to have what it takes to turn it all into soup, and these are a small way to help with that

Other donation items (canned fruit and vegetables, canned soup, peanut butter) may feel somewhat obvious, but the ones I just listed turn up on many online lists of things that food pantries need, but generally don’t ask for.

Looking for another way to give back that may not readily spring to mind?  Donate blood.  You can go through the Red Cross or a local organization, but blood banks always need donations, and winter often comes with a lot of accidents.

These are obviously just a few ways that individuals can give back during the holidays, and there are many, many more.  This is not a blog that is specifically about charitable giving, but I think the reality of the situation is that many people do want to give back, and the holidays inspire this in us, which is a great thing.  And while this may not seem very Thanksgiving-specific, I think for many people, giving back is a way of showing how thankful we are to have what we have.  In the spirit of recognizing our privilege and realizing that some of us may never need to worry about being able to afford tampons or needing to rely on the kindness of those who run shelters, it is nice to set aside what we can in order to help those who are less fortunate, and I hope that many of us who get inspired during the holidays will keep our causes in mind as we move into a new year.

If the things I have already said so far have not yet resonated with you, I’ll just end this post with a link to one of last year’s posts on giving back.  This post outlines several avenues for activism, volunteering, or donating-~-whatever it is you think best fulfills your need to give back, if you feel such a need.  Included in this post are ways to address homelessness (through more than just donating to food banks or clothing drives), ways to help survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence, and ways to stand with LGBT youth.  These are far from the only great places to donate your time or money, and I would never claim to be perfect at vetting organizations, or to have any sort of comprehensive view of the options available-~-in fact, because my blog is LA and DC focused, if you don’t live in that area, only national organizations discussed on this site may seem like options to you.  Just remember: there are hundreds, thousands really, of organizations that work to help other people, and you can find them in your community, if you just start looking.

Let’s get ready for a great holiday season.

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~ by Randi Saunders on November 20, 2014.

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