The holiday season has always been considered a time of giving along with celebration, not only to loved ones but to those who may be struggling in your community.
From gift drives to coat collections to canned food drives, the winter season has several opportunities to offer support even after the holidays are done.
As we go filled with hope into the new year, there are still plenty of ways to make this entire year one of charitable giving by donating items from our homes or by purchasing items specifically for a cause.
The need for food continues year-round. As you’re tidying up the pantry, there’s likely all kinds of things in there that you may have gotten for a recipe, grabbed on impulse or snacks your kids mysteriously refuse to devour. Make sure they aren’t expired, and head to a “blessing box” near you.
These small, wooden boxes have popped up outside of many fire departments, churches, recreation centers and other local spots and are an excellent resource for people who may be a little short on a paycheck to help themselves discreetly supplement food for their family.
The boxes are limited in size, so make sure you are leaving useful items for people to create a meal or snack. Pasta and pasta sauce, mac and cheese, peanut butter, soups and other meal makers are great items to offer. If you decide you’d like to purchase something especially for the box, while at the store for your own family, grab more of what your family is currently needing. In the winter, grab an extra box of children’s medicine or extra hot cocoa, or in the summer, consider extra sunscreen or gatorade. Small shampoos, soaps, toothpastes and the like from recent trips are also a good thing to have in there, as well as women’s hygiene items.
Donations don’t have to focus just on the essentials, though. Your family can add items to the box to help make a birthday a special one. Have your kids help you make “cake kits,” with a single use cake pan, box of cake mix, tub of icing and some birthday candles. Eggs, oil and other ingredients can be pricey on a limited budget, but a can of Sprite is an easy substitute to put in place of perishable ingredients. Simply put a note to bake with the Sprite and wish them a Happy Birthday!
You could even add in some non-inflated balloons or a birthday banner from the dollar store if you wish. This can be a good conversation to have with your kids, who you may have told how lucky they are to be able to go on a vacation or do a certain sport, but when you chat with them about how families may not be able to afford something as “basic” as a birthday cake, it can be a powerful thought.
If you are tidying up your home after a bountiful holiday and have some items you’d like to donate directly, there are several places that will gladly accept those items as well.
Thrift stores such as St. Vincent de Paul of St. Michaels, St. Martin’s Barn in Ridgely and the Neighborhood Service Center in Easton all take your donated items and sell them to support their programs that provide housing, utility and food bank help for local families. Their websites will list specifically requested items that do well in their particular shop, but most all take clothing, shoes and accessories as well as household goods like kitchenware, linens, decor and more.
Many thrift stores and other donation spaces are wary on accepting children’s items like cribs, swings and bouncers because of the high amount of recalls and the challenge for volunteers to keep up with them all, so make sure your item is one they will accept before lugging it in.
If you specifically have a stash of baby goods to rehome, Choices Pregnancy of Easton will take new or like new items to give to their mothers in need. Extra clothes from your baby shower your little one didn’t get to wear under a size 9 months, still packaged bottles you stocked up on only for your baby to reject them– small items can be very meaningful to a mother in a precarious situation. Formula and cereal that are still sealed as well as diapers and wipes still at least in their plastic are always on their list of needed items.
While they are also unable to take some baby goods, they welcome clean pack-and-plays.
Continually unloading from your home? Social Media is also a good way to connect people directly with items they need with free groups.
There are several Facebook groups on the Eastern Shore, like “Free in Caroline county MARYLAND,” “Talbot County Freebie Swap,” and “FREE stuff in Queen Anne’s County.” In these groups, a person may post something like “needing a costume for my kid” or “does anyone have a crockpot?” If you just upgraded to an instant pot and aren’t looking back, you could offer yours up.
These groups are great groups for people in need, but they are also well used by those looking to reuse and reduce.
As always, be careful with meeting up and look to your police departments for a list of surveyed meet up spots head to a department store parking lots like Target, which has parking spots with surveillance.
Have any medical supplies or glasses? The Lion’s Club acts as the community connector for these pieces. You can find their eyeglass dropoff boxes in post offices, the YMCA and other spots around town or reach out to the club directly for larger items.
What about our furry friends need? Shelters are always in need of towels and blankets if you are sprucing yours up and many also welcome your overflow of stuffed animals.
If you have pet gear like sturdy bowls, litter boxes, carriers and more, these are also useful items to take in. Want to purchase a specific item? Give them a call to see what food they may be running low on, and if you don’t think you’ll make it out there, use a service like Chewy to deliver or Amazon for other needed supplies such as paper towels, bleach and more. These are items they go through quite a bit!
One last spot to help a local family? Your local school. Nobody more than a teacher knows what kids and a struggling family may need.
If you know one, ask if there’s a need for student in their class. Have your own kids with a field trip fee due? Send in extra with a note it’s for another student, or send in an extra $10 when the book fair rolls around.
Discreetly rehome a jacket, shoes or backpack for a child who could use it. Of course, your teachers themselves may have a wishlist for items they fly through, like dry erase markers, sanitizing supplies and things for special activities. `
Whether rehoming things or purchasing items specifically for an organization, kindness and giving are not something to save up just for the holiday season.
Alongside your holiday resolution, jot down a quick list of ways your family can make a positive impact in the community this year.