By Pam Marino
It's December, which means it's holiday time, when many people feel that tug to spread good cheer to others. We've got five ways you can indulge in the spirit of kindness and giving this month. If you've got additional ideas, please share in the comments!
1. Give to a Holiday Drive: Some people love the tradition of giving at the holidays, others are looking for an end-of-year tax deduction. Whatever the reason, you can help a lot of people in need have a brighter season by contributing to a holiday drive, either with goods or cash. One of our favorite fundraisers, Jacob Goeders, a.k.a. The Leukemia Slayer, is raising money for the second year in a row for his Santa Slayer Project. This young man uses money donated to the project to buy gifts for other children on the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital cancer ward, where he himself is being treated for leukemia. But you need to hurry, Jacob needs to finish the toy shopping soon. Other charities are collecting items like socks, bedding, or coats. Still others could really use gift cards to give to clients, or cash donations to buy what is most needed. Look for food donation barrels at stores and other locations to help local food banks combat hunger at the holidays. Or donate to the Good Neighbor Stories Virtual Food Drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Our goal is to raise $1,500 by Jan. 1, 2013.
2. Give the Gift of Time: If you're low on cash and items to share, consider volunteering your time this month. The United Way of Silicon Valley is looking for volunteers to help spread holiday cheer to the children of East San Jose. Every child at four schools will receive presents from their wish list, along with a book to encourage reading skills. Younger siblings will also receive gifts. Sign up for a shift today before all the spaces are filled. Find more volunteer opportunities at HandsOn Bay Area, and One Brick Silicon Valley.
3. Consider Giving Alternative Gifts: If you're scratching your head wondering what to give as gifts this year, consider alternative gifts that both honor those you are giving to, and make a difference in the world. Alternative gifts range from donations made in the recipient's name, to items purchased from nonprofits and companies focused on social justice. A great place to shop for gifts in person is the Holiday Peace and Social Justice Craft and Info Fair, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 9, at the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto, 1140 Cowper St., Palo Alto (I'll be there selling the Good Neighbor Stories 2013 Datebook!). Or, "shop" online at Alternative Gifts International, which has been providing gifts of food, shelter, trees, animals, medicine, and more, since 1986. Pick from 30 different projects located all over the world (including the U.S.) to support in honor of your friend or loved one.
4. Have the Neighbors Over: I know, I know, you're busy. This year set aside just a few hours to open your home up to the neighbors for a chance to connect and catch up. The get together need not be fussy or complicated, just invite them over for a drink, or some cookies and hot chocolate.
5. Send Holiday Cards With Notes of Appreciation in Each One: Instead of the usual generic card with a signature or annual family letter, consider writing one thing you appreciate about the person/family you are sending to. Too daunting a task? Pick just five people, or whatever number you choose. Set aside five minutes each day to write to one person/family. Or, pick five people or agencies in the community that made a difference in your day-to-day life this year, and write a brief note of gratitude. Maybe it's a barista or sales person who serves you with a smile all year, local police officers or fire fighters, the vet techs at your pet's veterinary clinic, teachers, car mechanics—the list goes on.
For even more holiday kindness ideas, see the Good Neighbor Stories three-part series on "30 Ways to be a Good Neighbor at the Holidays", on our More Ways to be a Good Neighbor Page.