Here are a few suggestions to help you get started and, if you look around your neighborhood, you are sure to come up with more ideas on your own.
Free Ways to Help Others
* Reach out to your elderly neighbors. Invite them to join you for one of your holiday meals or take a plate of food over to them. Even if they already have some place to go on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, they may really appreciate sharing some of your leftovers with you a day or two later. Take along a few flowers from your garden or a sweet treat. The days between the holidays can be very lonely for many people, especially those living a long way from their families.
* Stay in touch with people who may have lost a loved one in the past year. Invite them to spend time with you and your family. If they are not ready for a big family gathering, just taking the time to invite them over for coffee one morning could be greatly appreciated.
* Don't just limit your help to a meal during the holidays. Check in on the elderly in your area often during the year to make sure they are OK. Offer to help with tasks that are easy for you, but may be difficult for them, such as changing light bulbs or blowing the leaves off their lawn.
* Gather a few friends or take your grandkids to visit a nursing home. Call ahead to ask when it would be a good time to come. Go Christmas caroling there or take along some easy crafts or games. Many elderly people love to see children around. Encourage your grandkids to chat with the residents. I had a friend who used to get her teenage grandson to dress like Santa Claus and visit a nursing home in our community. The residents loved it!
* If you or your grandkids enjoy making crafts, elderly people in your area may appreciate whatever you make ... whether you bake cookies or knit lap blankets for those who are wheelchair bound. There are others who may also appreciate homemade gifts. When I was a Campfire leader, our troop members would make friendship bracelets and similar items of jewelry that were popular at the time. Then we would take them to a local orphanage for the girls who lived there. It was a special way for our Campfire girls to reach out to others.
* Volunteer to help at a local soup kitchen serving meals to the homeless. This is a wonderful idea to do with your friends or other members of your family. Soup kitchens often need extra volunteers around the holidays because they have more people who show up to be fed.
* Volunteer at a food bank, and bring along any extra canned goods you may have. Food banks frequently need volunteers to fill bags or boxes of food to give to the needy. The holidays are the perfect time to volunteer because they frequently get more donations to distribute this time of year.
* Volunteer at an animal shelter. Many of them need people who are willing to walk dogs or help in the reception area. Younger members of your family may love to do this with you.
* Don't forget members of the military when you are reaching out to others. Do you have stacks of books that you have already read? Why not send them to the troops who are away from home? You can do this by contacting http://www.operationpaperback.org -- a non-profit organization that collects and ships books to troops both in the U.S. and those who are stationed overseas.
* Just be nice. The holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year for many people. They may be missing a loved one who died or moved away during the past year. They may work for a retailer and feel overwhelmed by rude, rushed customers. They may be having financial difficulties that make it hard for them to afford to buy gifts for their loved ones. Whatever is going on with the people you encounter, you can either help them have a better day or your actions can make their day worse. Choose to be kind, polite and considerate to everyone you meet. You'll feel better about yourself, and you may make a significant difference in the life of someone else, as well.
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Photo of man picking flowers is courtesy of www.morguefile.com