(Dr. Clayton Lawrence, founder and CEO, shares his thoughts in a weekly column focused on community wellness and inspiring others.)
If you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get involved in your community, the holiday season is the ideal time. The cold weather can be tough for those in need, presenting health concerns and leaving many struggling to stay warm. Add to it the expectations that come with the Christmas holiday, such as gift giving and preparing a dinner, and those who are struggling to make ends meet face even more struggles.
If you’ve got some time to spare, a closet that needs purged or a few extra dollars to help make a child’s Christmas special, consider a few of our favorite ways to make a difference in your community.
Holiday food drives
There are so many opportunities to ensure that families are able to enjoy a nutritious Christmas dinner. Check at your local grocery store to see if they are rounding up your purchases to donate to a local food bank or reach out to local schools, which often collect canned goods for families in need. We’d be surprised if you have a hard time finding a place to donate a few food items, but if you need a little bit of help, reach out to your local food bank branch or contact a nearby United Way. Both of these organizations work hard year-round to ensure that the needs of the community are being met and that includes offering a nourishing meal for families, individuals and shut-ins.
Cold-weather coat drives
We’ve all got them – an entryway closet full of coats and jackets that haven’t been worn for, well, too long to say. Take this time to go through each one and ask yourself if it’s been worn in the past year. If you did not have a need for it, there are plenty of people who do. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that, as of 2017, there were about 554,000 homeless people in the country on a given night. Can you imagine spending a bitterly cold winter’s night exposed to the elements? Think about that tonight as you snuggle in for the night under layers of blankets. Now imagine if your gently used coat could offer warmth and comfort to an individual who has fallen on hard times – your donation could be the answer to someone’s prayers.
Many of us are fortunate to have family and friends to share the holidays with. Whether we prepare the table with festive fare or we enjoy the tasty offerings of others, the best part about the holidays is gathering around the table to not only nourish the body, but the soul, as well. For some, however, the gathering will be among strangers, taking in a meal at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Why not bring some holiday joy to someone by offering to prepare food or prepare a plate for those in need. It can be a humbling experience to witness the appreciation of those who have very little and to watch them interact with others who quickly become like family.
Holiday toy drives
For 11 years, LEAP Foundation DC has gathered with friends, family and supporters around the holidays not only to enjoy a festive event with each other, but to spread that joy to disadvantaged youth and families in the Washington, D.C., area. To date, the nonprofit’s annual Toy Drive has allowed the organization to donate more than 2,200 gifts to individuals. A new tradition began last year, which continued into 2018, with 13 children, along with their parents, receiving a happy Christmas thanks to the generosity of LEAP supporters. Whether you donate a few toys to a local organization or choose to adopt an entire family, we can promise you that the joy you’ll be providing will remain in your heart the whole year through.