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

November 24, 2016

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...

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.

Shop the Story

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.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“It would be nice if Food52 published and promoted via social media a piece on this, to reach more people --> more contributions --> fewer children will go to bed hungry, at least in the short term. Thank you. ;o) ”
— AntoniaJames

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.

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.)

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.

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.

Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker
View Maker
Food52's Automagic Holiday Menu Maker

Choose your holiday adventure! Our Automagic Menu Maker is here to help.

View Maker

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Erin Harris
    Erin Harris
  • AntoniaJames
  • Chef Cindy
    Chef Cindy
  • melissa
  • Liz | inspired by the seasons
    Liz | inspired by the seasons
Food52 (we cook 52 weeks a year, get it?) is a food and home brand, here to help you eat thoughtfully and live joyfully.


Erin H. December 24, 2016
I'm totally with you and your grandma, Pomme d'Amour -- and to your "If you think a nice thing about someone, say it," I'll add this from my mom: "You can find something to admire in everyone, if you'll take time to look."
AntoniaJames November 28, 2016
Did you know that Whole Foods Market is now matching 1:6 donations made by customers at checkout to that store's local food bank? In other words, for every dollar you donate, they match it with 6, for a total donation of $7. This will continue through Christmas. I was told by customer service in the Oakland store that this is a nationwide giving campaign by WFM.
It would be nice if Food52 published and promoted via social media a piece on this, to reach more people --> more contributions --> fewer children will go to bed hungry, at least in the short term. Thank you. ;o)

Chef C. November 26, 2016
When we have an aboundance of fresh herbs and veggies from our organic garden during the year we freeze dry (or just freeze them) then when the holidays come anything we don't use we had out in small bottles (also collected through the year) with labels (example: "Fresh Basil from our garden to your family") so they don't go to waste and we get to start again the next year!
melissa November 26, 2016
love this post!
Liz |. November 25, 2016
#25 is my go to and bonus points for returning their cart! Sharing smile or kind word to the elderly is a simple way to brighten their day.. Thanks for keeping kindness in this season of giving Food52.
Pomme D. November 25, 2016
I loved number 21 on the llist above! And it reminded me of something my grandma taught me: if you think something nice about someone else, tell them.
If someone on the street looks chic, say so. If you're encouraged to see someone reading literature on the subway, let them know. If you recognize good parenting in a restaurant, by all means let them know it matters. A sincere compliment is always a great gift.
Mary G. November 25, 2016
I do laundry for my daughter who is a single mother with two children and no washer/dryer hookups in her apartment. It saves her time and money and the gift of fresh, clean folded goods. For every piece of clothing or linen I fold I'm thankful for all they bring to my life and the very act of folding warm, clean material is a peaceful time for me too. It's a gift that helps us both!
Homemadecornbread November 24, 2016
When you buy a bottle of water for yourself at the airport during holiday travel or any time really, get two and give one to someone who looks frenzied.
Darlene B. November 24, 2016
Say Happy Holidays to the checker at the store before they say it to you. They are required to say it you aren't and when you say it first it really makes them feel good and surprised to think that you are thinking of them and the smile you give them makes them feel better about a sometimes thankless job.
John H. November 24, 2016
In a world far far away and time long ago I was a disc jockey (with real records) on the local radio. I ended every show with this "If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours".

I have no idea how others respond to a smiling face, but I know that when I smile for others, -I- feel better.
Dayn R. November 24, 2016
We have a few - evident - homeless in the area and it pains me each time I see them. You never know what the cause truly is, even if you try and engage them to find out. Regardless, having been thru horrible times and rescued by friends I tend to be overly sensitive to others' plights.

STOP, look up from your phone, look up from your normal, mindless commute and take note and notice of others with less than "stellar" lives. You can't save everyone, nor at times anyone, however you can try and lighten their load for even a few moments.

And trust me, money doesn't solve problems. Care, true concern and a devotion to making a difference, does.