Tough times often bring people closer together. As Covid-19 continues to spread, our most vulnerable neighbors, and the people who care for them, need all of the support and generosity we can give this holiday season.
Here are some ways you and your family can spread a little extra cheer throughout your community.
1. Thank our frontline heroes
No one has done more and risked more for all of us than the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff who are fighting Covid-19 every day. Make a couple of extra batches of cookies or order some treats from a local business for delivery to the nearest hospital. You could also make care packages for medical professionals who live in your neighborhood. For a personal touch, have your kids design homemade thank-you cards. Don’t underestimate the difference these little signs of encouragement make for a nurse who can’t remember her last day off.
2. Put a charitable spin on family traditions
The great after-Christmas Trivial Pursuit game or Christmas cookie exchange won’t be the same this year if your family is celebrating virtually. If you’re moving some of your Christmas traditions to Zoom, consider “raising the stakes” for a good cause. Establish a buy-in for game night and let the winner decide where to donate the pot. Or, make the losers foot the bill for the family’s chosen holiday charity.
3. Brighten a child’s Christmas morning
Stockings and Christmas trees around the country will be a little less full this year with millions of Americans still struggling to make ends meet. Many churches and charitable organizations have moved their annual toy drives online so you can pick up something special for a child in need safely.
4. Donate locally
As a general rule, large national charitable organizations are the most reliable to donate to. Groups, like the Red Cross, have both the infrastructure and oversight to ensure your gift makes a real difference. In most cases, money is also the most effective form of donation because it doesn’t need to be boxed or shipped.
However, Covid-19, social justice movements, and widespread unemployment have put a major strain on local homeless shelters and food banks across the country. The organizations that serve your local community could be running low on canned goods, toiletries, and other essentials families need to get through the winter. You could organize a charity drive among your family or on your block. If you do, you’ll find charitable giving is contagious. Word spreads quickly, moving from family-to-family, house-to-house, and neighborhood-to-neighborhood inspiring even more giving.
5. Give big
If you decide the best way to give back this holiday is with a large monetary donation, consider calling your accountant before you write that check.
Working through the tax ramifications of a large donation can make your donation feel a little less genuine, but the government includes charity in its tax calculations for a reason: our leaders want to incentivize charitable giving, particularly from those who have the means. No guilt required.
If you still feel bad, you can always donate your “tax benefits” and give even more to your charities.
6. Start with your own backyard
One day I’ll go deeper into my “take care of your own backyard” philosophy, but for today’s conversation, I’ll simply say this: charitable giving and works should begin in our own backyards.
Before we give our time or money to a charitable organization, we should start by giving our time and money to those in need within our own families. I don’t mean within our nuclear family (spouse/partner, children) – I assume you’re already taking care of your responsibilities at home.
I’m talking about your parents and grandparents, your sisters and brothers, and beyond.
Many of us already do this, but many more don’t. It’s often easier to give to outside organizations than to our own families. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true.
When we give to a “Salvation Army,” we don’t have the same expectations for what they do with the money as we do when we give to a family member. We make the donation, assume they’ll use the money for good, and that’s that. But, with family members, we’re far more invested in our giving. We want to know how they’re using the money, that they’re not squandering it and taking advantage of our generosity. Our expectations go way up and with those increased expectations comes a higher level of emotional involvement.
This often makes it considerably more difficult to give to family than to an outside organization.
If you’re concerned about wasting your money, go to the source. Go to the grocery store and buy the food yourself. Make a direct payment to a debt. Pay for addiction treatment or spring for a meal beyond their normal budget. Go shopping with her and buy her a new outfit.
You can see how giving to strangers can be a lot easier than giving to family. It’s far easier, and emotionally safer, to write a check than to get involved in a family member’s struggles.
Easier, but not better. Despite being the harder path, shouldn’t we take our first dollars and use them on the people closest to us? Shouldn’t we take our first hours and spend them on family?
I’m convinced if we did this, if we all took care of our own backyards, there would be far less need to care for others because we’re already taking care of our own.