Once your family has developed a habit of using their “kindness muscles,” you may want to put them to good use by expanding your efforts into giving back within your local community. Research has shown many times over that individuals who practice giving, whether through volunteerism, charitable donations or other means, are happier and healthier than people who don’t give. Children of parents who habitually give back to the community are also much more likely to practice kindness and acts of giving themselves, making it doubly important to engage the whole family in good works.
Despite knowing that giving is good for everyone involved, it can be challenging to fit acts of giving into already-crammed schedules, especially during the holiday season. When there are so many daily commitments on the calendar that are now magnified by the addition of shopping, cooking, baking, wrapping, and attending holiday events like school concerts or office parties, finding a way to fit good deeds into the picture can become the last thing on your to-do list. Fortunately, spending a whole day serving at your neighborhood’s soup kitchen isn’t the only way to get your family involved in giving (though it would be a great experience!). Here are some easy ideas for finding giving opportunities in your local community that won’t require you to re-organize your calendar.
- Hook up with a local organization that’s already running a project.
If you have children, ask whether their school is planning to hold any type of charitable drive, such as a canned food collection or gently-used coat swap. Look for “angel trees” or “wish trees” along your daily route – at this time of year, many stores and businesses have them, and it can be easy to choose a tag from the tree and simply bring in the requested items the next time you’re passing by. At other times of year, keep an eye on the news from faith-based organizations and social service agencies in your area; they may be coordinating donation drives or hands-on activities like making sandwiches for hungry families, or stuffing backpacks for children in need.
- Make your shopping habits meaningful.
With a little planning, you can do a lot of good for others through an activity that you’ll need to do anyway. An easy habit to cultivate – and a good one to involve kids in – is to keep an eye out for “Buy One, Get One” sales or other deep discounts at stores you frequent. While you’re stocking up for yourself, grab some of those “free” items and set them aside to donate to your local food bank or other charitable organization. (Remember that items like toiletries, personal care products, socks, and underwear are often badly needed by shelters and domestic violence agencies – not only food!) You might also find that some stores in your area hold special shopping events where a certain percentage of all proceeds during a given time period are automatically donated to a local charity. If you’re able to shop during those times, you can engage in an easy act of giving while completing your regular errands.
- Give from the comfort of your own home.
Often, it’s not that people can’t find time to give, but that the hours they’re available don’t match up with times for giving opportunities. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities available to do good wherever you are, at whatever time you can manage it. For example, you might engage children in making cards for people in local hospitals or nursing homes. Get the whole family involved in sorting, cleaning, and bagging items to donate to local shelters or social service agencies – many can pick up your donations if you call ahead. Or look into local chapters of organizations like Project Linus, which accepts donations of handmade blankets for critically ill children. Your favorite hobby may be easily channeled into an act of giving.
- Seek support from friends and neighbors.
Acts of giving are often more fun and more impactful if they’re done in groups. The next time you plan to host a party, make it a “giving party” where guests bring a suggested donation (monetary or otherwise) that can be given to a local charity of your choice. Encourage kids to band together with friends to do something that appeals to them, like hosting a bake sale in your driveway, putting on a play or show to raise funds from friends and family, or organizing a collection of gently used books or toys in their school classrooms to be given to children in need. Or gather a group of friends and challenge everyone to stop one spending habit – like a daily coffee purchase or lunches out during the workday – for a set amount of time. Each day, group members can set aside the money they would have spent on that purchase, and at the end of the challenge the combined funds from all group members can be donated to an organization you all agree on.
While engaging in larger acts of giving, like volunteering at an animal shelter or serving meals to hungry families, is a rewarding activity, there’s no need to feel as though you can’t give back to your community if you can’t commit to a grand gesture. By finding ways in which you can fit giving into your everyday routine, you and your family can still do a lot of good, one small action at a time.
Don’t forget! If you and your family complete a dinner-related act of giving between now and December 16, upload a photo to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #familydinnerforward and you’ll be eligible to win a fabulous prize package from Lenox!