I can usually describe the holidays in one word: BUSY. With divorced parents and stepfamilies that extend across five states, the holidays turn into marathons of food, forced merriment and kind-of-meaningless gifts. Still, as I've gotten older and (questionably) wiser, things seem to have quieted down a little. Maybe it's the fact that none of us really want to spend oodles on silly presents; maybe it's that we can't figure out why we would celebrate a religious holiday if we're not very religious. More likely, it seems we've found happiness and plenty in our lives, and the desire for a traditional celebration seems less acute.
Whatever the reason, this year my mother and I have found ourselves with free time on Christmas. So, for the first time, we're looking outside our thick-walled family bubble. This year, we'll join tens of thousands of people who volunteer to share their joy during the holidays.
If you're like us and would rather contribute than consume (at least for a few hours) this year, here's how to get started. You don't need to volunteer at holiday time, either; there are many, many ways and places to give.
- Feeding America helps you find your local food bank and sign up for shifts, or find out about ongoing food drives. Plus, you can shop or make charitable donations, with the proceeds going to fight hunger and poverty.
- VolunteerMatch lets you search for local charities of all types, not just food banks. Got a skill or some time to share? Find out how.
- For the conscientious teenager in your life, look atDo Something. The site lists volunteer opportunities that are geared toward young people. Teenager not so conscientious? Try using the words "college admissions." Volunteer service looks great on that application.
- I'm not a huge fan of just throwing money (or petition signatures) at a problem, butHeifer International is a truly fantastic organization. Your donations provide farm animals to families around the world. For a small donation, it's a gift that literally keeps on giving milk, eggs and baby animals for years to come.
Speaking of meaningful gifts, here's a very useful Minimalist Christmas Gift Guide for additional inspiration. Have a lovely holiday season.
Image: Gleaners Community Food Bank