You conquered the Black Friday stampede and elbowed your way to the best flat-screen deal in town. You hit the local boutiques on Small Business Saturday and scored fantastic artisanal goodies. You bought some extra-special gifts on Provisions, of course, and come Cyber Monday, you showed your coworkers how it's done and managed to promo code your way to the world's most successful online shopping spree -- all while convincing your boss you were hard at work.
And yet, do you have the feeling that something is still...missing?
Now is the season of giving. Fully 24% of the average person's annual charitable donations are made between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to the Center on Philanthropy. There is no shortage of good causes to support -- whether financially, by giving time, or just doing a good deed.
Here is the Food52 guide to giving back this season.
Donate money to a great cause.
The most simple, and often useful, way to give back is through a financial contribution. This allows charities to allocate resources most efficiently; soup kitchens can buy food in bulk, for example.
Charity Navigator is a great place to start, with giving tips and lists of highest- (and lowest-) rated charities. This year, the Charity Navigator Top Charities list includes:
- Books for Africa, which collects, ships, and distributes books to students in Africa,
- Project C.U.R.E., providing medical supplies and equipment to developing countries, and
- The Children's Aid Society, which helps children living in povery succeed and thrive
Here at Food52, food charities are obviously close to our heart. Merrill supports The New York Common Pantry, the New York City area's largest food pantry. The Food Bank for New York City and City Harvest are other favorites.
Donate your time.
Your time is just as valuable as money. Contact a local soup kitchen or food pantry, hospital, church, or visit Idealist.org, where you can search volunteer opportunities by location and description. Charities are always looking for extra hands to pitch in this time of year, so make it a family activity. The cliché is true: You get back more than you give.
Approximately 13 million American children live in poverty. Give a less fortunate child (or children) the joy of opening brand-new presents at Christmas. Toys for Tots, run by the U.S. Marine Corps, distributes new, donated toys across the country. Many fire houses run holiday donation programs as well. Contact the one nearest you.
Hunger in America is a serious problem: 1 in 6 Americans face hunger issues. This issue is compounded by the recent cuts to the federal food stamp program -- the largest cuts since the program was enacted in 1964. Food pantries have been seeing a significant uptick in need, requiring more food than ever.
Start a canned food or toy drive.
There are lots of fun ways to do this. Throwing a holiday party? Ask each guest to bring a canned good or toy (or two) as the price of admission. At work, you can place a donation box in a visible place in the office, like the kitchen or near the elevators, and then hound -- err, remind, rather -- people to the point of obnoxiousness. If you can't organize your own drive, keep your eyes (and ears) open for the Salvation Army Santas and just donate what you can.
Help our soldiers.
Getting 3 square meals a day, internet, and X-Box on base? Check. Some basic comforts from home? Not so easy to come by.
Help our troops get through the holidays away from home by sending a care package through the U.S.O. You can also donate money and recycle an old phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers, which provides free phone calls for soliers to call home.
Give the gift of a personalized charitable donation.
Do you really want to give yet another set of tea towels as a hostess gift? Does your sister really want another tasteful cardigan, or are you just stumped? Enough with the generic gifts! Find a cause that is personal, and make a donation in your loved one's name: Doctors Without Borders for your doctor friend, for example, or Heiffer International for your cousin, the ex-Peace Corps volunteer.
Reach out to someone in need.
This may be the easiet -- yet most easily overlooked -- of all. The holidays are a time for celebration, but they are also a lonely, stressful, or sad time for many people, especially those who may have recently lost a loved one. Give an old friend a call, take grandmom out for lunch, or be sure to email someone who could use a little extra holiday cheer. A little goes a long way, and may make more difference than you know.
Photos by Dominic Perry, except bottom photo by Liz Andrew.