(Family Features) Giving is the true spirit of the holiday season. However, in addition to gift-giving in the traditional sense, there are other meaningful ways to make a difference in your community and give back to those in need – including the 3.5 million people who experience homelessness each year, according to the United States Census Bureau – during one of the most critical times of the year.
By giving money, time or material items, or partaking in other small acts of kindness, you can spread holiday cheer and help instill a sense of giving in others. To get started, here are some ideas you can put into action this holiday season.
Donate to a Food Pantry
Churches and food pantries are always in need of donations, and the holiday season is a great time to help provide a meal for someone who may not otherwise be able to eat. Canned goods and other non-perishable items like cereal, oatmeal, rice, peanut butter, canned tuna and spices are often needed. Some pantries can also use non-edible items, such as soap and other toiletries, and simply donating money is always an option, as well.
Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
Because extended exposure to cold weather can be dangerous, soup kitchens and homeless shelters are often more crowded during this time of year. While soup kitchens and other aid facilities often see an influx of volunteers during the holidays, most are still grateful for the extra hands to help serve a meal or assist with other tasks around the facilities.
Host a Coat Drive
Providing clothing, specifically coats, for the less fortunate during the colder months is another way to assist those in your community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a warm winter coat is considered a “budget extra” for nearly 15 percent of Americans living in poverty. National non-profit organization, One Warm Coat, is dedicated to providing a free, warm coat to any person in need. The organization has facilitated more than 27,000 coat drives nationwide and has a goal of collecting 1 million coats this winter in celebration of its 25th season of giving. Through its six-step process, the non-profit provides all the tools necessary to hold a coat drive and to distribute the coats in local communities where they were collected. Learn more about how you can get involved at onewarmcoat.org/youcanhelp.
Attend a Benefit Event
Concerts, theatrical performances, walks and other exhibits are often held during the holiday season with the proceeds going to benefit a local charity or service organization. Many community service clubs also offer benefit dinners or bake sales that can provide a positive impact for those in need in your area.
Adopt a Family
There are many organizations that can help you sponsor a family in your area to help provide gifts and other necessities for over the holiday season. Most can provide you with a list of items each family member needs and wants to make shopping easier.