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33 Easy Ways to Give Back During the Holidays, From Charities to Good Deeds

Whether through donation or action, 'tis the season of giving.

While the world is full of people in need year-round, no time is that more apparent than during the holiday season. For every smiling family curled up around a warm fireplace and a massive pile of presents under the tree, there are others who have no fire, no gifts, and sometimes, even no family or home at all. Of course, we all want to help those in need, and we know the holidays are the season of giving, but they're also the season of spending. If you're wondering, "How can I give back this year and get gifts for everyone on my list?" fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help out during the holidays that don't cost a thing.

So, whether it's through donation or action, you can help someone whose spirits might need a little extra lifting this holiday season. If you don't know where to start, we've rounded up several unique and easy ways to give back throughout the holiday season.

Be an elf this season.

young child writing santa claus a letter in front of a christmas tree

This year, make a child's Christmas by "answering" their letter to Santa. Select USPS postal branches keep letters for Santa in a room so volunteers can read the letters and buy Christmas presents for them. Generally, letters written by underprivileged kids are usually chosen. You can find a participating postal branch near you on the Be An Elf organization's website.

Run a race for a good cause.

woman tying her running shoes, NASA every items

You can combine exercise with a good cause this holiday season. There are different races all around the country you can participate in, but the New York Road Runners' Jingle Bell Jog 5K offers runners the opportunity to raise money for various youth programs, benefiting nearly 250,000 children across the country. This year's race is December 14, so mark your calendar and dust off your running shoes.

Pay someone's layaway balance.

overcrowded checkout lanes, never say to cashier

Pay Away the Layaway is a non-profit organization that helps to pay off layaway balances for families in need. By donating, you can pay off balances on gifts for children—everything from games, toys, and books to backpacks, clothes, and coats. What better way to give back this holiday season than by helping those in need provide their families with the things they need, as well as gifts for a real holiday miracle?

Spend time in nursing homes with those who don't have families.

woman talking to elderly woman in a nursing home

Throughout the country, there are people in nursing homes who don't have families to visit them during the holidays, and that can certainly be a lonely feeling. The Holiday Project is an organization that "brings the spirit of a holiday to those who otherwise might not have a celebration." They organize visits to people in nursing homes, although they've sadly decided to end the organization this year after nearly 50 years in service. However, you still have time to find a nursing home in your area to visit this holiday season on their website.

Donate to Seattle Children's Hospital's Amazon wishlist.

Amazon is one of Americas most admired companies to work for

The Seattle Children's Hospital has partnered with Amazon to create a wish list for their young patients. There is everything on the list from toys to hygiene products. Waking up in a hospital on Christmas is never easy for any child, but your gift could help improve their day and give them the hope and comfort they need for the holidays.

Take lunches to people who work during the holidays.

packed to go lunches sitting open on a table lined up

While many people relish in the time they get off from work during the holidays, there are some people that don't get time off. Emergency responders, police officers, firefighters, and even retail workers are stuck working long hours, with little time to see or spend time with loved ones. Bring holiday cheer to these folks by bringing them lunches during their work day. Not only are you saving them money, but the gesture itself will make being stuck at work a little better.

Donate your flight miles.

man about to board a plane

Most everyone knows about the charitable work Make-A-Wish does every year, but through the travel wishes they grant, they need more than 2.8 billion miles or 50,000 round-trip tickets. A simple way you can help out? Donate your miles. If you've saved up your frequent flier miles, you can donate them to their Wishes in Flight program where they don't expire and are used to "help grant a life-changing wish experience."

Make a blanket for someone who needs it.

wool blanket items you're storing wrong

The organization Project Linus was named after the Peanuts character who wouldn't go anywhere without his blanket. And by making a blanket or donating money, you'll be able to provide a sense of warmth and security—a practical and caring gift—to a less fortunate child this winter season. Through charitable acts by those across the country, the organization has donated about 350 blankets every month for the past two decades.

Give presents to children who have parents in prison.

Christmas Presents Under a Tree Pay it Forward Stories

When you have parents in prison, it's hard to guarantee your holidays will be that happy. Will you receive gifts? Will someone show up for you this year? Well, to help this often overlooked population, Angel Tree is an organization that provides presents to these children. And you can help through donations as a little way to bring some light to these children.

Help provide a clean cooking conditions to struggling families.

shiny knobs on a stove Home Hazards

No amount of food means a thing if there's no way to safely cook said food. That's where the Clean Cooking Alliance comes in—an organization that has been working to provide accessible clean cooking conditions to families all over the world since 2010. 

They support "the development, sale, distribution, and consistent use of clean cooking solutions that transform lives by improving health, protecting the environment, creating jobs and income opportunities, and helping consumers save time and money." And through donations from around the world, they can help to do this.

Donate free Christmas trees to military families.

mom and daughter hanging ornaments on a christmas tree

You can support the armed forces in their holiday celebrations this year by donating to the Christmas Spirit Foundation. This organization provides free, farm grown Christmas trees to members of the United States Armed Forces and their families. In 2018, they provided more than 16,500 free trees to military families all across the country.

Help those who have fallen victim to natural disasters.

hurricane rain storm National Geographic bee questions

As the holiday season approaches, remember that there are places—like California and Florida—that experienced various natural disasters this year and are still recovering from the destruction. You can help make sure their holiday festivities are better by donating to Operation Blessing's website, which helps families that have been devastated by disaster.

Provide helpful shoe boxes to children in need.

school supplies pile paper clips scissors pencils markers

If you want to provide help for children internationally, Samaritan's Purse provides shoe boxes full of toys, school supplies, hygiene items, and notes of encouragement to children in need all around the world. Youth in some of the hardest-to-reach countries are provided with a shoebox gift. The organization even allows you to pack personalized shoe boxes online year round—but heads up: National Collection Week is coming up. It runs from November 18th through the 25th.

Donate video game consoles to children in hospitals.

video game soundtrack

It's always sad when sick children have to spend time in the hospital, but it's especially sad during the holidays when they can't spend time at home surrounded by loved ones. Child's Play is an organization that works to provide children in pediatric hospitals essential, fun distractions in the form of new video game consoles and games.

Help orphaned children get gifts.

wrapping presents, relationship white lies

Orphans are one group of children that often don't receive presents during the holidays. (Remember: Many of these kids have been impacted by abuse, neglect, or trauma.) One Simple Wish is a charity that allows you to connect with children in the foster care system and find out what gifts they're asking for. That way, you'll know with 100 percent certainty that you buy a gift the kid will love.

Adopt a military family.

military army mom and daughter

Operation Christmas Spirit allows volunteers to "adopt" a military family for the holiday season. In this case, your adoption means that you'll provide Christmas gifts for the kids in the family, and a family gift or gift card to the whole family to help them out.

Provide the gift of shelter to homeless youth.

homeless shelter workers packing boxes

Many homeless children will be forced to seek shelter on the streets this Christmas. But, with Covenant House is working to give the gift of shelter for homeless youth. And through donations, you can help put roofs over heads. This organization works to combat youth homelessness in over 31 cities across the country, and provides safe housing for almost 2,000 kids every single night.

Donate toys to give to those in need.

pile of legos, tennis balls, and maracas, things that annoy grandparents

Every child deserves a gift this holiday season, and this Toys for Tots strives to make that possible. You can donate money online with a credit card (which then goes toward toys for, well, tots), or you can donate a toy at one of the countless toy drop locations around the country. You can also work with the org to host a Toys for Tots event yourself, where you can collect toys from friends, coworkers, and neighbors for less fortunate children.

Give an animal the gift of a forever home.

Woman reaching out to touch a dog's hand at the animal shelter

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has worked to put an end to the abuse and neglect of animals for more than 150 years. The organization is a national leader in rescuing animals, providing them with medical care, and helping them find homes. By adopting a pet this holiday season, you can give an animal in need a loving home and surprise your family with a brand new (totally lovable) family member.

Help a sick child's family cope during the hard holidays.

Broken teddy bears

The Ronald McDonald House provides housing for families of children receiving treatment in nearby hospitals. You can make a sick child and their family's Christmas season better by donating board games, puzzles, stuffed animals, and other toys to this organization. You can also volunteer your time to cook families a meal at one of the many Ronald McDonald House locations around the country.

Donate to make a sick child's wish come true.

child meditating, middle child

The Make-A-Wish Foundation raises money to grant wishes for critically ill children. By donating online, or starting your own fundraiser, you can help brighten a sick child's Christmas by making sure they're able to spend it with their family (it costs a lot to leave the hospital in critical condition), or see that their hospital room is cheerily decorated for the holidays. Instead of asking for gifts this year, you can ask that your loved ones donate to this foundation instead.

Help provide gifts for low-income households.

jealous wife

Family Giving Tree hosts a holiday wish drive to provide children, families, and seniors from low-income households in the San Francisco Bay Area with gifts. Family Giving Tree says, "To fulfill the exact holiday gift wish of a child, adult or senior in need may not seem like much, but for someone who may not otherwise receive a gift, it's everything. That single, specially chosen gift lets them know that someone in the community is thinking of them."

Donate to a charity in a friend's name.

Dog sitting in the dirt

If you want to give back this holiday season, consider donating to a charity in a friend's name. It's a thoughtful gift for multiple parties: your friend, and whoever receives the material benefits. Red Rover is the perfect choice for all of the animal lovers in your life; your donation will help animals in immediate crisis.

Help provide educational programs for students in need.

Kid, school, relationship, fall

To help children and families living in poverty this holiday season, you can donate to Harlem Children's Zone. By donating to Harlem Children's Zone, you support the organization's goal to provide educational and extracurricular programs that will ultimately help children complete high school and graduate college.

Purchase holiday cards for sick children through St. Jude.

Person Opening Card Pay it Forward Stories

St. Jude makes it easy for you to brighten a child's Christmas morning by allowing you to purchase a holiday card online that they'll love. Holiday cards with words of encouragement make children know that people are thinking of them and are hoping that they get better.

Buy holiday cards that donate money to those in need.

Christmas cards are a bad tradition
Fanette RickertShutterstock

Everyone loves a nice Christmas card, so why not buy some that also help give back? When you purchase Christmas cards for your loved ones from Action Aid, money is donated to people in need all around the world.

Donate to those living in poverty.

Women Typing Life Easier

Direct Relief focuses on the support of people living in poverty. You can donate online, donate monthly, or set up a fundraiser. An easy way to raise money and make a difference is by posting a fundraiser on Facebook. Remind your friends about the season of giving and inspire them to donate to your fundraiser.

Volunteer to help feed America.

Man and Woman Volunteering at a Soup Kitchen How to Make Friends as an Adult

It's a charitable opportunity as old as time: Volunteer at a local food bank this holiday season. Feeding America has locations all over the United States, so find a food bank near you and serve others.

Wrap presents for a good cause.

Wrapping paper rolls

Help out this year by wrapping presents for Shared Hope International. This organization works to prevent sex trafficking and restore victims of sex slavery by training first responders to identify sex trafficking warning signs and by raising awareness about child sex slavery in communities through campaigns. You can support Shared Hope International and their mission by wrapping Christmas presents for their donors and supporters.

Donate gifts to those in the foster care system.

woman at computer Life Easier

SantaCAN is an online gift registry for Los Angeles children who are in the foster care system. The website allows you to see exactly what specific kids want for Christmas so that you can purchase something, mail it, and make their whole day.

Help pack meals for undernourished children.

30 compliments

Give the gift of food and nourishment this holiday season by donating to Feed My Starving Children. According to this organization, "volunteers hand-pack scientifically formulated meals for undernourished children," and they've helped ship over two billion meals since starting. You can also donate in a loved one's name as a Christmas gift.

Try a nontraditional gift to help someone in need.

Buying presents

Alternative Gifts International is a non-profit organization that works for the support of humanitarian and environmental causes. This organization allows donors to designate gifts through selected agencies in the name of their relatives, friends, and associates. This is a great opportunity to provide a charitable gift this holiday season.

Volunteer with a multifaceted charity program.

Christmas Eve traditions

Catholic Charities San Francisco hosts many Christmas charitable events every year. This year, you can participate in their holiday donation drives for both children and adults. Or, you can sign up to help one or multiple families this Christmas through their holiday family sharing program. No matter how you choose to give back, you'll be making a family happy this holiday.

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