My family used to go buy or make Christmas ornaments the day after Thanksgiving. Then one year we changed the plan. Our family activity included stopping by a local church for a few hours to help sort clothes from their clothing drive. It was a rewarding experience for us and a great help to the church. With so many people in need this year, the best gift you could give might be time. Here are a few ideas to help you do that.

Visit a Local Church
Many churches have food, clothing, and toy drives this time of year. While it’s easy to get people to donate, it’s harder to find people to sort the donations. Ask the office when they need help and tell them when you’ll arrive and with how many people. That will help them best use your time.

Call the Local Food Bank
Most food banks give out bags or boxes of food during Christmas week to provide families with a Christmas dinner. Call ahead to find out how you can volunteer to help. Try to round up a few friends or family members to help that day, too.

Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
Soup kitchens operate year-round, but they tend to be busier during the cold months and especially on Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you have a few hours to give on the actual holiday, volunteer to serve those in need. My friend told the story of a little boy and his mom she served one year. He asked very carefully if he could have a glass of milk, and then made great pains not to spill it. When he quietly asked for a second glass and she gave it to him, you’d have thought she’d given him the keys to the toy store. When you help people who are truly suffering, it helps you realize the true meaning of the season.

Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter
Homeless shelters also collect donations of food and clothes. Call to volunteer your help sorting their donations.

Volunteer at a Hospital
There’s nothing worse than spending the holiday season in the hospital. This year, visit a hospital to help distribute toys or read to sick children, talk to people whose families are too far away to see them during the holidays, or organize the trauma closet.

Visit a Nursing Home
Sadly, many elderly people in nursing homes never receive visits from their families. Stop by on Christmas or Christmas Eve to spend a little time with those who will be alone on the holiday. They have great wisdom and great stories – you might find that the visit means more to you than any gift could.

Help a Community Toy Drive
Various organizations host toy drives for Christmas. Although they usually have a delivery system in place, they may need help sorting and tagging the toys. Spend a few hours in the days leading up to the holiday helping them organize the donations.

No matter what type of help you want to offer, some organization will be more than happy to receive it. Start with local groups you’re already familiar with, and then branch out. Once you give the gift of time, the holiday season will take on new meaning for you.

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