As the city gets colder, spread warmth

The daylight is dwindling, temperatures are dropping, and in many parts of the country we’ve begun to bury ourselves under layers of outerwear to brave the cold.

One of the most unique realities about living in the city is that within our own city limits and neighborhoods and zip codes is a vast range of wealth, status, abilities, and needs. We often bump into tangible needs, but it’s hard to know if there’s anything that can be done to make a real difference. Where and how we chose to give is a deeply personal decision, but since it’s top-of-mind for so many people and so many nonprofits during the holiday season, we’ve compiled a list of some practical ways to take action and begin thinking about how to serve our city.

One of the most unique realities about living in the city is that within our own city limits and neighborhoods and zip codes is a vast range of wealth, status, abilities, and needs.

Toys for Tots is a household name, and rightfully so! Donation boxes for new toys are located at supermarkets, post offices, churches, schools, and small businesses. We love looking inside to see how full the boxes are and how many beautiful toys will be given to families who need a little extra help. Keep an eye out for your local donation box.

salvation army bell ringer

Visit your local Salvation Army to learn about specific needs and volunteer opportunities in your own city. They may have wishlists of needed items, a holiday shop to support people in need (these kinds of holiday shops often use volunteer help for setup), and you can always brave the cold and be a bell ringer! Give your local Salvation Army community center a call if you can’t find a good volunteer opportunity for your family online.

Angel Tree is a program of Prison Fellowship that offers support to the families and children of prisoners by donating Christmas gifts. The program offers guides and resources for hosting an Angel Tree Party or registering your church or community group to be matched with children in need of hope. This volunteer opportunity takes a bit more planning and works best when there’s a group of people who can participate. Or you can always donate online.

Make a donation or buy a tree from a tree farm that participates in Trees for Troops. Visiting a participating location means you can purchase your tree and then buy an extra one and load it into a trailer parked on the farm. Trees will be delivered to military families across the US and troops who aren’t able to be home for Christmas.

care package

If you’re hesitant to give cash to people on the street, consider making care packages instead. Fill a plastic bag with essentials like soap, tissues, disposable razors, tampons and pads, new warm socks, and gloves. Print off phone numbers and addresses to local shelters and food banks and include a prepaid transit card so they can get there. Gift cards to restaurants are helpful for getting a warm meal and a clean place to eat. Stuff a care package in the stroller before you head out for the day and offer it to a homeless person in lieu of cash.

Local shelters and temporary housing facilities need things like warm blankets, socks, and coats during the winter to distribute to the homeless and people facing hardship. Call your local shelter to ask if they have specific needs or wishlists. Food pantries and soup kitchens also have more needs to fill this time of year, and may have a list for donating homemade meals. All of these facilities can often use volunteers to help with sorting the donations they receive, an activity that the whole family can help with.

shopping carts of canned food at food pantry

Gather in your kitchen and bake some Cookies from the Heart for the Ronald McDonald House! Find your local chapter and sign up to deliver homemade cookies to families who are caring for a hospitalized child over the holidays. The local chapters also have wishlists for new items needed to help stock the Ronald McDonald houses.

Contact your local hospital to see if they have any specific needs over the holidays. Many hospitals publish a wishlist right on their website of particular needs or can direct you to charities and organizations they work with to provide for patients who may have to spend their holidays away from home.

It’s easy to feel powerless to help in a tangible way when we see our fellow city dwellers battling homelessness or fighting poverty or pinching pennies for Christmas gifts for their family. These are just a few simple ways to help make a difference as a family this holiday season; use it as a guide for your own creativity in giving back to your city!

Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, had it right when he said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Those of us who have been on the receiving end of a thoughtful gift just when we need it understand that even a simple gesture can bring a great deal of warmth.