With Thanksgiving right around the corner and the holidays coming, now is a good time to teach about giving back.  It's easy to feel disconnected, as many parents juggle work, school, kids, and activity after activity. But you can take some simple steps to bring your family closer play a game, cooking a meal together, or create a new tradition.  One of the most satisfying, fun, and productive ways to come together is volunteering in the community.  Volunteerism also sets a good example for your kids and helps the community.  The list below gives you 25 different ideas to get you started.  

  1. Operation warm coat drive - clear out your closets and gather up all your small size sweaters, jackets and coats and DONATE! http://www.operationwarm.org
  2. Collect items for your local food bank.  Instead of the usual clearing out of your pantry consider non-perishable easy to use items that don’t require cooking like granola bars, crackers, or peanut butter. 
  3. Anonymous Giving: Help an elderly person who needs their leaves raked or sidewalks shoveled or maybe send a pizza to a friend who could use a night off from cooking.  Pay attention to those little moments.  
  4. Over Tipping: This holiday season as you are rushing around if you see someone go above and beyond why not give a little extra?  It will definitely make their day. 
  5. Take the kids shopping for a new toy to bring to the Toys for Tots Drive.  
  6. Visit your local senior center.  This time of year gets lonely for them.  Have your child practice his/her reading, musical instrument, or play a game with someone from a different generation. 
  7. Treat someone who is sad or going through a tough time to lunch.   These small acts can make a big difference just knowing someone noticed.  
  8. Has your child outgrown the last size of diapers you bought?  Why not donate them to www.babybasicsnational.org?   They are a 100% volunteer organization that provides and distributes free diapers to babies of the working/near poor in the communities of Bergen County. 
  9. Host a blood drive.  One pint can save up to 3 lives.   The Red Cross makes it easy to do.  Just visit http://www.redcrossblood.org/hosting-blood-drive and sign up. 
  10. Looking for a date night out with plenty of laughter? Check out Comedy Night at Addison Park in Aberdeen, NJ on 11/23.  The evening features an elaborate gift auction, sit down dinner & comedy show.  It benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.    For ticket information contact tbauman@cff.org 
  11. Support a local small business this year.   When you are Christmas shopping, consider visiting a store in your community to find that perfect gift.  
  12. Have an attic full of decorations?  Bring the ones you don’t use anymore to Good Will for those who don’t have any. 
  13. Host a teddy bear drive. Ask each of your child’s classmates to bring a stuffed animal to donate to needy kids in your community.  Visit HomelessShelterDirectory.org to find your local homeless shelter in your area.
  14. Write letters or put together a care-package for service men/women.  Many of themwon’t be home for the holidays.   Let’s support their effort and let them know they are not forgotten this time of year. 
  15. Support the Special Olympics and participate in a Polar Bear Plunge! Jan 17 in Wildwood or Feb 21 in Seaside Heights, NJ.  Visit http://www.njpolarplunge.org/ to sign up. 
  16. Pick up litter at a local beach, playground, or school. 
  17. Animal shelters also need our help to keep our furry friends fed and healthy. Donate your time to help play, care, and clean-up for them.  Or your skills if you are skilled photographer help them take pictures or videos to get pets adopted. Or if you have gently used items like water and food bowls, toys, leashes and collars, brushes/grooming tools or even pet beds all are greatly needed. 
  18. Take up a new hobby.  Make handmade blankets for hospitals – they need various sizes for seriously ill and traumatized infants, children and teens.  http://www.projectlinus.org/
  19. Collect old sneakers or athletic shoes and recycle them to become new play surfaces like basketball courts, tennis courts, athletic fields, running tracks and playgrounds for young people around the world.  http://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/better-world/reuse-a-shoe
  20. Have your kids brush up on their vocabulary skills and donate at the same time. Go to http://freerice.com/ for a multiple-choice vocabulary test. For each word defined correctly, 20 grains of rice are donated through the United Nations World Food Program to help end hunger.
  21. As the winter days feel shorter and shorter why not bring in the sunshine?  Make a playdate with some friends and participate in Project Sunshine.  Volunteers assemble Creative Arts & Crafts activity packages, create Sunny Gram cards, organize toy and book drives and sew Surgi Dolls and other materials for children facing medical challenges.  These items are then sent to local pediatric medical facilities that have requested them for their young patients. For answers to questions on the ways to give, please contact Lisa Stamm at lisa@projectsunshine.org or 212-354-2288.
  22. At your next sleepover, make it a pajama party.  Have all the kids come already dressed in their PJ’s and bring their favorite story book. Then have them bring a new pair with them.  Go to www.pajamaprogram.org to start a drive in your area to help kids in need who don’t have warm pajamas to sleep in on cold nights.
  23. There are plenty of deals and steals during the holiday shopping season. Next time you notice a BOGO promotion (buy one, get one), donate the freebie to a charity collecting gifts for the holidays). It’s the perfect way to contribute to a cause without spending an extra dime.
  24. As you prepare holiday meals or bake cookies, why not double the recipe and give the extra to a senior citizen in your neighborhood?   Or participate in the Meals on Wheels.  Volunteers help prepare and deliver meals to homebound seniors in your local community.
  25. In December contact a tree farm or nursery about donating a Christmas tree to a needy family, shelter or nursing home. 

Written by Sarah Graves, Suburban Mom