There are hundreds of ways to create meaningful experiences in the holiday season – volunteering time, donating goods or doing something for one’s community.
All of these actions are a way of giving the unconventional gift of giving back. They can be done alone, with friends or with family members and the options are endless.
“Lots of people don’t have the money to buy everyone gifts, but you can volunteer for no cost, except getting to the destination. There are lots of organizations that would benefi t greatly from people coming in and volunteering and helping out,” said Volunteer Central Community Coordinator Karen Oatway.
“Ask organizations what they need – there is always something that can be done. This is typically the time of year where people will consider things like this, but I wish they would do it all year round. It seems like now is the big time – the old saying ‘it’s better to give than to receive’ is true for sure.”
Volunteer Central is a great way to connect with organizations in the community, from homeless shelters to soup kitchens, to specialty non-profi t organizations like Ten Thousand Villages or Magdalene House.
Seniors are a major part of the population that lack Christmas inclusion. There are several nursing homes, hospices and live-in care facilities that would be happy to co-ordinate visits from choirs, musicians or members of the public simply looking to spend some time with an elder.
“Seniors can always use visitors at any time of the year, but especially around Christmas. Lots of people don’t have family around, or miss visits because of poor road conditions or needing childcare. There are a lot of lower-income seniors as well who could benefi t from a visit,” said Oatway.
Piper Creek Foundation and hospices may be able to arrange visits. Oatway says that hospices are often overlooked but are places where Christmas visits are very welcome.
“I know that hospice and hospitals make it hard for people to see family over the winter and over Christmas. Lots have family members elsewhere and it’s hard for them to get here. There are always people who would like to be visited. It’s not a big gift, but it is meaningful. Maybe bring a blanket, or make cards or something small,” Oatway said.
She also added that sometimes cooking a meal or providing entertainment for an evening is an option with hospices and senior facilities. She said that anyone with musical talents or a passion for singing would have lots of options for places to entertain over the holidays.
Another interesting idea is to gather a group of friends or family members, contact an agency, and come together to make a gift basket or collection of items that might make a good donation.
“For a women’s shelter, maybe you’d get some nice pens, or a journal, or some bath salts or something like that for somebody to make them feel special. You can write a nice quote in the book or something. You can do that in your home with your friends, and then you’re also making someone feel good,” Oatway said.
“It makes you feel good, makes you feel happy – and hopefully, that turns into a tradition. Instead of buying something for your friends that they don’t need, you’re giving it to someone who needs some encouragement.”
Other options for unconventional gifts are to purchase items such as drinking water, school supplies, animals and required goods for communities overseas. Ten Thousand Villages runs a program where people can send items such as cement, irrigation system components, seeds or small farm animals directly to villages in need around the world through the Mennonite Central Committee.
A major component of deciding to do an unconventional gift is to look at the needs of organizations. Some places will receive a surplus of jackets, but have no donations of hats or mittens. Others will be full of volunteers but may need some monetary submissions.
Work places can also use their Christmas parties or gift exchanges as an opportunity to give back.
“There are a number of work Christmas parties that go on this time of year. Sometimes there are gift exchanges, but you might be buying a gift for someone that you don’t know very well, so instead it might be better to bring gifts for the Christmas bureau. Contact a charity that has a community need and bring that to the party instead,” Oatway suggested.
All walks of life deserve a safe, secure holiday season regardless of faith or social circumstance. Volunteer Central can connect people to individuals or groups in need all across Central Alberta.
The Volunteer Central web site offers hundreds of possible recipients of a ‘giving Christmas gift’. Oatway said, “People should try to look into places that aren’t well known. Also, unfortunately, Christmas is an exciting time but it can also be very hard. There is a lot of domestic violence during this season, so the Women’s Outreach and Women’s Shelter have a big demand.”
“Truthfully, the volunteer gets the gift. Yes, they get to help someone else out but people learn how great it makes them feel and that there is a great feeling to get out of it. People would remember if they volunteered for a day, and helped someone else, and made a memory of feelings and friends.”