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Helping the Less Fortunate at Christmas

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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When Asked for Help

I work in an urban area, and I'm often approached by homeless people who ask for money. I want to help. Lately, I've been keeping a couple of items handy in my bag that I carry to work every day. One is a bag of compact nonperishables like pouch tuna and fruit cups. I bag these in re-used produce bags that I bought fresh vegetables in at the store, and I have them ready to hand out. When I give one out, I pack another one that night and replace the one kept in my tote bag. I also keep low-value gift cards to restaurants that have stores in my downtown area, such as Subway. I can buy a package of $10 gift cards at my supermarket and get points towards free fuel, and this gives someone a meal and some time out of the cold, too.

Feeding Hungry Kids

I volunteer at a school in an underprivileged area. The main cafeteria lady knows which kids are going home to a house with no food. There are too many of these kids. To save their tummies and their dignity, she places extra food in their backpacks when no one is paying attention. She has asked me to help by providing canned goods for this purpose. I spend about $10/week to assure that several kids have food to eat over the weekend. The notion of hungry children in the USA is abhorrent to me. I can fit that $10 into my budget. If you can fit a few bucks into your budget, ask your lunch lady if she can stow the goods in the backpacks of the right kids. They are everywhere.
JD in St. Louis

From Glum to Glowing

My son has a yearly tradition, which he began as a teenager. He buys a big bag of wrapped candy and hands a piece out to each cashier, bus driver, police officer, crossing guard, snow shoveler, etc. that he sees working a holiday or stormy day as a "thank you." It's astonishing how such a small gesture makes people go from glum to glowing.

Find Out Who Needs Volunteers

This year, we checked for volunteer opportunities during the holidays on where we were able to sign up with the Salvation Army to help distribute Angel Tree gifts, donate wish list items to our local Ronald McDonald House, and help the SPCA with a pet adoption event. Just type in your zip code and then click "local" to see a list of agencies in your area that need help.

Research Needs

I volunteer year-round with a local homeless shelter and they have their hardest times during the summer. One thing people can do is actually volunteer year-round. I have a weekly two-hour commitment. I shop at a dollar store for shampoo, perfume, aftershave, bandages, etc. While most shelters will smile graciously and accept anything you give them, you should take the time to learn what they actually need. Maybe the local dental society provides them with enough toothbrushes and what they really need is copier paper. You'll never know unless you spend the time to find out. Men's shelters don't need a lot of conditioner, but women's shelters sure do.

Volunteer Time at a Food Pantry

Our church has a food pantry for the community. Last year, we bagged about 150 bags for Thanksgiving and Christmas with a holiday meal. This year, we bagged about 400 meals. My son's Boy Scout Troop and a Cub Scout Pack helped this year, and it was such a blessing to have so many people helping. Many hands make light work! It would have taken us several hours to do 400 bags, but with the Scouts helping (about 25 of them), we were done in half the time!

My husband helps our Caring Minister at our church in going to the major food pantry in our city to get supplies for our pantry. The city pantry is always in need of help to sort, bag, and shelve items. Our troop has gone a couple of times and bagged onions, carrots, or other vegetables from 100-pound or 50-pound bags to two- to five-pound bags for families. It is a great opportunity for groups looking to do service hours.
L.B. in Lenexa, KS

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