While the holidays are a time of elaborate winter decorations, festive traditions and buying and receiving gifts from the people we love, it's also a time to show support for those who need it most.
Whether you're able to volunteer a full day or week to help out those in need or looking to make a donation where your money is needed, there are great ways for you to give back this holiday season.
Volunteer at an animal shelter
Approximately 7.6 million pets enter animal shelters across the country each year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Humane Society gave ABC the following tips on how you can help shelters and homeless animals this holiday.
- Visit your local shelter's website to see if they have a wish list of items needed, or call if none is published (animal care facilities need everything from towels and blankets to washers/dryers and computers).
- Donate special toys or treats for the pets to enjoy (be sure to call the shelter first and ask what treats and toys are acceptable).
- Donate cookies or other holiday treats for the staff/volunteers caring for the animals during the holidays.
- If already approved as an animal caretaker volunteer, ask if you can take on holiday caretaking duties to allow a staffer to spend the holidays with his/her family.
- If you receive an upgrade to any electronics, appliances or other items for yourself during the holidays, consider donating your old version for use or sale by the organization.
- Donate funds specifically to help other pet owners in need during the holidays, like supporting or start a local pet food and supplies pantry, starting a fund to provide subsidized veterinary care for pets in crisis, supporting free behavioral counseling or training for pet owners who can't afford it, etc.
The Humane Society, though, says the best way to help out is by adopting a new best friend from your local shelter.
Visit with a veteran
While many people will be spending the holidays with their families, there are veterans across the country who don't have anyone to share the festive season with. These veterans and the organizations that assist them definitely could use some good will this holiday.
Veteran medical facilities are in need of entertainment for their inpatients, so musicians, clowns, magicians, artists and more are in need to put a smile on veterans' faces this holiday. You can also donate to veterans organizations across the country to assist vets in need and help keep their facilities up-to-date.
The VA Voluntary Service has an extensive list of veterans organizations that need items like winter coats, thermal underwear and toiletries during the holiday season. Veterans organizations also need volunteers to help decorate items during the holiday, transport service members to and from facilities and help with administrative tasks.
Serve a meal to the hungry
More than 48 million Americans live in food-insecure households, meaning that they do not have enough access to a healthy amount of nutritious food, according to Feeding America. You can help serve these struggling families, children and senior citizens in need of food by volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donating and helping at a food bank.
The Salvation Army told ABC that there is a greater need for volunteers during the holidays. Volunteers can help prepare some of the 56.9 million meals each year for the needy, and also assist with administrative duties like answering phones. One of the best ways to show your support for the Salvation Army, though, is by donating spare change to the organization's red kettles.
Food banks are also in need of support to help feed families this holiday. Feeding America offers locations of different food banks across the country in need of volunteers to inspect, organize and ship donated foods, help with administrative duties, and even teach about healthy cooking and budget grocery shopping. Food Banks are also in need of monetary donations, where a small amount can help provide food to those in need.
Help build a home for those who don't have one
Over 46 million people live in poverty in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many of these people aren't able to afford quality housing or homes. That's why Habitat for Humanity needs volunteers help during the holidays to help build homes for families in need.
Habitat for Humanity told ABC that they have assisted almost 1.8 million people around the world through their home initiative programs. Over 2 million volunteers help each year and plenty more are needed for ongoing projects across the country. Volunteers can assist with the construction of a new home, repair or refurbish an existing home, or volunteer at a nearby Habitat for Humanity ReStore resale outlet. The organization also features programs for women to build homes and learn construction skills. The organization will be hosting special events throughout December and January in cities across the U.S. where volunteers can lend their support to home building and renovating initiatives.
Habitat for Humanity is also in need of donations to make these projects possible. A $10 gift could buy a box of nails for a project, and a gift of $150 could be a new front door for a home. Different Habitat for Humanity chapters have their own specific wish lists for items they need this holiday as well.
Spend time with children at a hospital
Whether they're receiving a specialized test or getting treated for more complicated surgical procedure, a child's stay at a hospital can cause an emotional and financial strain on kids and their families, especially during the holidays. You can show your support for the over 3 million children being treated at hospitals each year and their families by visiting kids or even providing gifts this holiday season.
Children's Hospital Los Angeles allows supporters to sponsor a family during the holidays, where people shop for gifts and fulfill a family's need during the holidays. Families are also in need of items like bus tokens, diapers, grocery gift cards and warm clothes. The hospital also needs volunteers to purchase and prepare gifts with donated funds, wrap and label gifts and help clean up after holiday festivities have ended.
The Ronald McDonald House Charities also offer help to families in covering a child's medical costs. The organization is in need of volunteers at its numerous chapters across the U.S., and a $25 donation to Ronald McDonald House can help provide dinner for an entire family.
Buy toys for children in need
Around 13 million children in America live in poverty and many will receive few or no toys this holiday season. Purchasing toys for children in need can boost their self esteem and have a positive influence on their lives.
Toys for Tots has locations in every state where toys can be dropped off for children in need. Donors are suggested to give toys that would be something they might purchase for their own child or relative. Most Toys for Tots locations give toys to children up to 12, but some accept toys for children ages 14-16 as well. You can also make a monetary donation to Toys for Tots to help their mission of providing children toys.
The Salvation Army says that they are also in need of volunteers for their Angel Tree program, which provided toys for more than one million children last year. Volunteer Match also has an extensive list of organizations that need volunteers to collect and sort toys and help set up toy drives.