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50+ Small-But-Mighty Ways to Help a Loved One (or Stranger) During the Holidays

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Day 6 of 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving: Help someone out around the holidays, scot-free. And add your own ideas in the comments—we're going to pull off a bunch of them in person.

In movies, the holidays are about grand gestures and child-sized, bow-wrapped gift boxes (with puppies inside!). But, in reality, the small actions you take to ease someone's load matter just as much, if not more. These random acts of helpfulness anticipate what a loved one needs (maybe that's just a hug!) before he or she can even articulate it (because who likes to do that?).

We brainstormed small-but-meaningful ways to help others—be they relatives and friends or neighbors, colleagues, and total strangers—during the holiday season, no matter what, or whether, they're celebrating. (Many of us probably went about the exercise by simply asking ourselves: What would we be so grateful to have someone offer to do during this frenzied time?)

I think I know what I want for the holidays...
I think I know what I want for the holidays...

Illustrator and designer Paige Vickers then transfigured many of them into printable, giveable coupons: Download them all here or drag and drop the images to your desktop and print the sheets out individually. Cut out the coupons, distribute at random (or tie into a little booklet and present all of them at once), and encourage your giftees to redeem as they like.

And, here's the ticket: If someone's all out of coupons, do one—or two, or five—of these for him or her anyway, before the request is even made. (And brownie points if you continue "the season of giving" well into 2017.)

To help friends, loved ones, and other near-and-dears:

To help neighbors, co-workers, strangers, and acquaintances:

1. Pack 2 lunches and give one to someone in need on your way to work.

2. Pick up your neighbors’ mail or newspapers while they’re out of town.

3. Make gifts for the people you interact with every day but might not really know (the owner of the bodega on your corner, the train conductor you see every morning, the fellow dog walker you pass every night when you're walking your dogs).

4. Bake or cook something for your neighbors, even if you've never met.

What to Bake for New Neighbors

What to Bake for New Neighbors by Taylor Schwartz

6 Baked Goods for Gifting

6 Baked Goods for Gifting by Talia Ralph


5. Send an actual, physical card—the kind with stamps!—to your friends and family for the holidays (there's really nothing like getting something in the mail).

6. Teach someone how to knit/whittle/play the harmonica/do a line dance.

7. Teach their kid how to.

8. Bring an extra coffee (or snack) into work to share with an exhausted colleague.

9. Get a small Christmas tree for an elderly neighbor (put it up and take it down after Christmas).

10. Invite friends who don't celebrate Christmas over for Christmas dinner. (Or for Hanukkah, or to join in another family tradition.)

The Easiest Way to Throw a Latke Party for a Crowd (& Still Have Fun)

The Easiest Way to Throw a Latke Party for a Crowd (& Sti... by Catherine Lamb

A Cookie-Decorating Party

A Cookie-Decorating Party by Brette Warshaw


11. Host a bunch of neighborhood kids for a cookie-baking party so they can take batches home.

12. Invite a colleague who won't be going home for the holidays to join you for a meal—it doesn’t have to be the meal.

13. Watch a neighbor kid for an hour so the parent can do an errand (or take a nap).

14. Reach something high or low in the grocery store for someone having trouble.

15. Shovel your neighbors’ walk or driveway before they ask.

16. Leave a good book you’ve finished somewhere someone will find it.

17. Pet sit for a neighbor (or offer to walk their dog when you walk your own!).

18. And when you’re done pet sitting, leave a meal (or a bottle of wine, or a batch of brownies) in their fridge.

19. Donate leftover Thanksgiving non-perishables to a soup kitchen, food pantry, or community center. (Or buy extra cans and mixes for these purposes.)

20. Offer up your driveway or parking spaces to your neighbors when they’re having get-togethers.

Where to Donate Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Where to Donate Your Thanksgiving Leftovers by Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm

A Dozen Plus Ways to Support a Good Cause While Gift-Shopping

A Dozen Plus Ways to Support a Good Cause While Gift-Shop... by Lindsay-Jean Hard


21. Leave a Post-It of encouragement somewhere along your commute to work for a stranger to find.

22. Bring in an extra umbrella into the office on a rainy or snowy day to send home with a colleague or stranger.

23. Split a bunch of herbs or a sack of apples or potatoes at the market with a fellow shopper.

24. Write gift tags or cards for an older friend, neighbor, or community member.

25. Carry a fellow shopper’s bags to his or her car (and help load ‘em in).

Illustrations by Paige Vickers.

Share your own small but mighty ways to give in the comments (or on social media using the hashtag #f52giving), and tell us who you'd like to do something thoughtful for. We'll be reading them all and making our favorite ideas come to life this holiday season—and yep, that means we might show up and do someone's dishes in person.

Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!
Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!

Tags: Holiday, Lists, Gifts