Holiday Volunteering

Deliver a meal

Help your local Meals-on-Wheels program—which is sometimes short staffed over the holidays—by picking up prepared meals and delivering them to the homebound. It only takes a few hours, but your visit can mean the world to people who may be isolated and lonely at holiday time.

Plan the year’s charitable giving and volunteer activities

Holidays are the ideal time to discuss community service and charitable giving. Gather the charity solicitations you received throughout the year and go through them with your family. Decide which causes your family feels passionate about and decide how each family member can contribute.

Adopt a family or child for gift giving

Help ensure that everyone in your community receives something special for the holidays by providing gifts for those in need. Ask to be matched with a family that has children the same ages as your own.

Make holiday cards

Think of all the people who would be cheered by your handiwork. Take your homemade cards to a local nursing home or hospital, or visit www.hugsandhope.org or www.makeachildsmile.org for the names and stories of sick children in need of holiday cheer.

Cook and serve a meal

Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or other institution. Some places only allow children over 12 or 14 to help out, but others will welcome your entire family. Younger children can set the table, make table decorations or visit with the guests.

Have a “giving” holiday party

For your next holiday party, ask guests to bring food for a food shelf, donations for a favorite charity or clothing for a homeless shelter. You and your children can deliver the items.

Help with a toy drive

You could pick up and deliver toys, sort, wrap or hand out gifts. Or your family could pitch in to buy toys to donate while you’re out shopping. Call your local Salvation Army or visit www.toysfortots.org for ideas.

Decorate a shelter, nursing home or elderly person’s home

What could be more rewarding than helping cash-strapped people decorate—and donating the decorations so they can be reused. Call senior services in your area to be matched with a group or individual who might appreciate help.

Create “Gift of the Heart” kits

Church World Service asks volunteers to assemble baby, health and school kits for distribution to needy children and families overseas. It’s fun to buy and pack these small items (soap, diapers, paper), which make such a big difference in people’s lives. To find out what to include and how to send it, visit http://www.churchworldservice.org/site/PageServer?pagename=kits_main or call 1-888-297-2767.

Organize a collection

What would you like to collect? Food? Mittens? Books? Toys? Contact a local agency that could use the items, then call on friends and family to contribute. You can also publicize the drive by handing out flyers or putting a notice in the local paper. Then drop off the items at the agency.

Brighten someone’s day

Three million Americans spend their holidays in institutions each year, and many have no visitors. Even if you only spend an hour or two, make the effort to visit individuals confined to a nursing home, hospital or other institution. For information, call your local hospital or nursing home, or visit www.holiday-project.org.