This article was updated on Dec. 7, 2020.
For many of us, the holidays are a time to be thankful for good health, a warm place to sleep at night, food on the table, and spending quality time with family and friends. But, it’s also a time to think of others who may not be as fortunate and find ways to help them. This is especially true this year, because 2020 has been a hard year for many due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food insecurity is a widespread problem in the United States, and it's only gotten worse this year with many unemployed and unable to find work. Pre-pandemic, 1 in 8 Iowans and South Dakotans struggled with hunger and often had to choose between putting food on the table and paying for other necessities like utilities, housing or medical care. Now, Feeding America estimates that nearly 16 percent of Americans Opens PDF are food insecure. This makes the cold winter months, and especially the holiday season, difficult and stressful.
Here are five ways you can spread cheer by helping the community this holiday season.
Plan a food drive.
Food drives of all sizes, whether you collect a few items at your child’s school or hundreds of donations from your office, can make a big difference. It’s easy to clean out your cabinets around the holidays and donate non-perishable items that you won’t use. But, before you do, think about how much you’d appreciate being on the receiving end of those items. Stick to canned items with easy-open lids, pantry staples like rice, beans and cooking oil, and healthy, shelf-stable snacks like trail mix and granola bars. Avoid heavily processed foods with lots of fat and sugar, as well as perishable items like fresh fruits and vegetables — most food banks have arrangements to get those direct from suppliers. See these tips for planning a successful food drive External Site from the Food Bank of Iowa.
Donate to a food bank.
Did you know that your local food bank needs more than just food items? If you’re not sure what items are most needed, call ahead and ask. Soap, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, and other items that can’t be purchased with food assistance programs are popular choices.
Diapers and infant formula are typically high in demand, too, since those can eat up a serious chunk of a family’s budget. Don’t have food or other items to donate? Food banks can make a few dollars stretch much further than the average consumer because they have access to wholesale prices. Sometimes, local businesses will hold match campaigns for financial donations — doubling or even tripling your contribution.
Give the gift of warmth.
Winter clothes, including jackets, hats and mittens or gloves, can be expensive — and sadly, not often a priority for those who are struggling to eat. As the weather turns colder, your local shelter will appreciate donations of new or gently used winter items that your family has outgrown to help someone stay warm. If you want to make an even bigger impact, nonprofit organizations like One Warm Coat External Site accept donations and offer tips for hosting your own winter coat drive.
Serve a hot meal.
If you want to do something a little more hands-on, many shelters or soup kitchens serve full holiday meals, and organizations like Meals on Wheels deliver meals to food-insecure seniors. Bringing food to someone who lives alone or serving a meal to those in need can bring some perspective and make you feel even more grateful for what you have.
Give back all year long.
While donating and volunteering are popular ways to show gratitude during the holiday season, food banks and other organizations need help during the rest of the year, too. Make a commitment this holiday season to continue volunteering for or donating to organizations that could use your help — not only will you be helping others in need, you’ll be improving your own health!
Volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping us from doing many things. But, it shouldn't keep you from volunteering. More than ever, organizations around the country need your support. By simply volunteering, you can play a part in the pandemic recovery.
However you choose to give back this season, keep these things in mind to keep you, your family and your community safe and healthy:
- Check with the organization you're volunteering with about any special safety protocols they might have in place.
- Avoid crowds as much as possible.
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands.
For more information on volunteering during COVID-19, and even some virtual opportunities to give back, check out Volunteer Match External Site.