Welcome to the 12th and final day of the 12 Days of Christmas here at Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks. While this time of year often means family and friends getting together, shopping for presents, and getting gifts from others to many people, to other people it is a cold, hard time of year. So for the 12th day of Christmas I’m not sharing a holiday recipe, gift giving guide, or DIY activity, but I’m sharing a way you can give back during the holidays.
Growing up I had two working parents and we were part of the middle class. Almost everyone in my school system was middle class so I didn’t see a lot of poverty until I went away to college. I grew up always having a hot meal for dinner, having enough money to buy lunch, and having all the comforts I needed at home. Sure I did my share of volunteering in junior high and high school but the real meaning of poverty didn’t hit me until I began teaching in the county where I now live.
I live in a small town in Maryland. I live in one of the poorest counties in Maryland. My school services many children who either just above the poverty line or who are below the poverty line. In recent years I’ve seen the struggles that these children go through everyday of their lives. When I put clothing in my prize box it’s often chosen before any of the toys because the kids need clothes. We give out food book bags to over 20 families every weekend so that the children have something to eat. The school gives coats every winter so that children can have something warm to wear.
In my community almost 17% of the people are living below the poverty line. The state average is sitting around 9% but in my area it’s almost double. I am grateful that my husband and I both work and are able to live comfortably. I want to give back to the community I live in and while it’s nice to do this during the holiday season, there are many ways to help year round. If you are looking to help in your community this holiday season and to give back to those in need here are some of my favorite ways.
1. Volunteer at a Local Soup Kitchen
Soup Kitchens are non-profits that feed people in the community. While most people think of volunteering at the soup kitchen as simply serving meals, there are several different jobs that need to be done. The kitchens do need people to help serve the food on a daily basis. You can pick up a 3 or 4 hour shift and help to serve the daily meals. Many soup kitchen also need volunteers to help take inventory of the food items so they know what they need to purchase. Others are need to help set up and clean up before and after meals are served. Some food banks even need drivers to help deliver meals to those who can’t come and them.
2. Volunteer to Prepare or Deliver a meal for Meals On Wheels
Meals on Wheels is a program that prepares and delivers meals to homebound seniors. Meals on Wheels is always looking for volunteers to help drive the meals to house, prepare a full meal, or even to make desserts for the meals. My home town church would always volunteer to bring the desserts to Meals on Wheels one month every year. My mother and I would bake treats and take them to our local center. Keep in mind that many seniors are diabetic and sugar free treats are really appreciated!
3. Visit a Local Nursing Home
Holidays are often a lonely time for the elderly who are in nursing homes. Whether their family lives far away or they don’t have any relatives, seniors are often thrilled to just sit and visit with those in the community. When I was in high school my next door neighbor and I would dress up as elves every year and take little goodie bags to the local nursing home. We would go from room to room passing out our bags, sitting and visiting with the seniors, and just listening to what they had to say. It was always a rewarding experience and one that I would like to start doing again this year.
4. Send Holiday Cards to those in the military
This is an activity the whole family can get behind at the holidays. The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes program enables Americans to “Give Something That Means Something” this holiday season. We are inviting the public to send cards of thanks, encouragement and holiday cheer to members of our U.S. Armed Forces, veterans and military families, many of whom will be far away from home this holiday season.
5. Be a Bell Ringer for the Salvation Army
Every year you probably see the people sitting outside different malls and stores ringing their bells for the Salvation Army. Did you know you can volunteer to ring the bell? Volunteers can ring for as little as one hour. In one hour, ringing the bell generally raises enough money to buy a family at least two bags of groceries. The Salvation Army provides food and services to families in need year round. My dad often talks of how the Salvation Army helped him when he was in the army so I always give any spare change I have to the Salvation Army at the holidays. I have also been a bell ringer three separate times. I loved seeing people drop the change into the big red kettle. It not only made them feel good but it made me feel good too.
6. Give a box of groceries to those in need.
This year when you are shopping at your local grocery store you may notice a box of food at the check out register. In my town there is a $5 box and a $10 box. These boxes are available to purchase when you check out. Each box of food feeds a family for one day. I actually purchased one today. When I was checking out at the market and my bill was $100 I looked over and saw the boxes were $5 each. I quickly grabbed a box and purchased it, knowing it would be going to my local food pantry to help families in my own area who may otherwise be hungry.
7. Send a card to a child in the hospital
This is another great family activity. Kids love receiving cards and pictures from other kids. It makes them feel special, it makes them feel loved, it makes them feel like someone cares. All you have to do is make a card and send it to Cards for Hospitalized Kids and they will send them out to Children’s Hospitals across the country. I am thinking about having my class at school make holiday cards for children in the hospital this year.
8. Cook or bake for your local Ronald McDonald House or Ronald McDonald Family Room
Ronald McDonald Houses are places where parents can stay when their children have a long hospital visit. These houses provide a space for the parents to go when they are not at the hospital but they live too far away to drive back and forth each day. Each house has private bedrooms for the family, provides home cooked meals, and has a play area for children not in the hospital. Families can stay in these houses for free or for a donation of $25. Ronald McDonald Family Rooms are rooms at the hospital that may have a full kitchen, sleeping areas, showers, and other things parents might need when their child is in the hospital. My local Ronald McDonald House is asking for volunteers to provide a home cooked meal, prepared in the house, or to bring baked goods for the families to enjoy. My husband and I volunteered last weekend and ended up making 7 dozen cookies for the families staying there. It felt good to give back and it was nice to actually go to the Ronald McDonald House and bake for them.