I find that as the holidays approach and I’m reflecting on my blessings, I’m particularly motivated to try to pay it forward – perhaps you’re the same!

Below are five routes to giving back with which I have firsthand experience…and most of these organizations are looking for help year-round, so feel free to save it for a New Year’s resolution, or get involved at any time of the year! As always, please ask if you have any questions!

The Shoebox Project

Founded by Caroline Mulroney and her three brothers’ wives Jessica, Katy and Vanessa Mulroney, this initiative provides boxes of personal items for women in shelters.

I got involved in our City of Kawartha Lakes collection last year, and rallied my family and friends to help me…we put together 14 shoe boxes!

Here’s my full blog post about The Shoebox Project, including how to put together a box, do’s and don’ts for items, photos of some of the boxes we put together last year, and how to find your local chapter. I will be collecting boxes again this year, so local friends – let me know if you want to help out!

(You can also fundraise creatively – I gathered up a set of books I was ready to part with and sold them on my school board’s buy and sell group for $50, letting potential buyers know that the money would be used to put together a shoebox! As well, my temporary ECE partner and I have decided to assemble a box together in lieu of Christmas gifts for each other this year.)

Food Bank

Whether it’s as simple as dropping off an item or as complex as organizing a food drive in your workplace, providing nourishment and nutrition is a valuable way to help people meet one of their most basic and essential needs.

I’ve seen neat “Advent Calendars” like the one below that encourage collecting a specific item each day, and while we’re often encouraged to collect early if we want to provide items in time for Christmas, the cupboards are usually quite bare in January, so don’t feel like you necessarily have a time crunch. While stuffing and cranberry sauce may not be typical January meal foods, they won’t be turned away – and the vast majority of non-perishables are appropriate any time of year!

While it’s very hands-on for children to bring in tangible items like canned and boxed goods to food drives, I learned recently that giving cash to a food bank can actually go a lot farther than you think – for every $1 you donate, they can often purchase $3 worth or more of food because of bulk discounts or special arrangements with retailers or manufacturers.

Sponsor a Child

There are numerous programs out there, and over the summer when our family decided we wanted to start a monthly sponsorship commitment to a child overseas, we researched different organizations and chose Chalice. It’s a Catholic charity located in Nova Scotia, and while their business decisions are based on the religious values we share, they do not evangelize participants and provide support equitably regardless of faith.

We now sponsor 12-year-old Maxildah from Zambia – the girls were thrilled to receive their first letter from her, and to send a reply. It’s already been educational, and I hope beneficial at the other end too. This is a great long-term way to get the kids involved.

International Microlending Through Kiva

For my birthday in July, some family members generously gifted me with money. I used some to buy myself a new laptop bag and duffel bag for travel, and wanted to do something to benefit others with the remainder. I had read about Kiva, an international nonprofit that crowdfunds to provide loans, in one of Jen Hatmaker’s books.

The idea is that your contribution is actually a loan (pooled with contributions from others), which is set to be repaid after a period of time. While there are no guarantees, Kiva does have a 96.8% repayment rate. When you get your money back, you can choose to reinvest or not. It’s up to you!

Again I enlisted my girls (13 and 11) to help me choose where to direct my funds. We decided to support Marialy in Columbia, a restaurant owner looking for a loan to help purchase rice, vegetables, fish, meat, pork, soft drinks, etc. She has already paid back 17% of what was loaned to her. We also loaned money to single mom Maria, a farmer also from Columbia, who wanted to purchase manure and fertilizer to improve crops.

The site offers photos and detailed descriptions about the borrowers (found worldwide), repayment schedules, etc., and there are filters to help you narrow down where you want to lend your money, for example by location or sector.

Sick Kids Get Better Gifts

The perfect gift for someone who already has everything! Whether it’s a $10 gift towards parking passes for parents visiting the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, $500 towards a TV, or anything in between, your Sick Kids Get Better Gifts donation helps support the kids and families during their hospital stay.

A few of my holiday favourites: $20 for Holiday Cooking and Baking Supplies, $25 for Photos With Santa or $45 for a Holiday Meal For a Family. Some gifts this year are also being matched by KRAFT peanut butter; look online for more details.

An example of how we’ve given a Get Better Gift in the past: we gifted my “Oh, don’t get me anything for Christmas” grandmother with a sleeper chair so that parents at Sick Kids are able to stay by their child’s side through the night. (You can print something out to enclose in a holiday card for the recipient to indicate what you donated on their behalf.) Are you one of those people who has enough “stuff”? Do others say you’re hard to buy for? Put one of these items on your wish list!

What other ways do you and your family give back? I’d love to hear in the comments, or reach out on social media!

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