Giving Back During the Holidays Is Great, But We Need To Do More

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During the holidays, there are traditions I look forward to that often include decorating my home for Christmas and watching all of the Hallmark movies my heart desires. It also happens to be the time of year when people give back, opening their hearts and wallets to causes for the greater good. From donating unwanted items to buying toys for children and spending a couple of hours in a soup kitchen, the days leading up to Christmas are filled with opportunities to be selfless and help others.

And while that's wonderful, I wish that same feeling of urgency many experience was also felt during the rest of the year.

  • Growing up, helping those considered less fortunate was a nonnegotiable thing in my household.

    poverty concept feeding food for beggar
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    "If you see someone down on their luck, pray for them and figure out a way to help, because faith without works is dead," my mother used to tell me. From the time I was a young child in pigtails to a teen, the concept of charity was right up there with chewing with your mouth closed and saying "please" and "thank you."

    You just did it.

    I vividly remember times during my younger years in Baltimore playing in church before being asked by an elder to go deliver groceries to Sister So-and-So's house because she had trouble getting down the stairs. You didn't ask why or question it, you just did.

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  • The concept pretty much stayed with me as I transitioned into adulthood, inspiring me to give my time in an effort to pay it forward.

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    Some of the fondest memories I have are the years I spent crossing the bridge from New Jersey to New York to get to East Harlem so I could help run a weekly girls leadership program. The experience changed my life in a way I can never put into words but will always be grateful for.

  • And it's something I wish others, including families, would open themselves up to experience year-round.

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    With my oldest now in kindergarten, his daily school folder is quickly filling up with requests for canned goods for food bank donations, clothing, and other items to help those down on their luck. It's been really great thus far to navigate the concept of helping others with him in a way that resonates, and I look forward to more opportunities to do so, both in and out of school.

    He's been with me while I volunteered time during charitable projects and spent a number of nights throughout the week playing with other children who happened to be homeless living in an emergency family shelter. Serving is a lifestyle I try to instill in my 5- and 4-year-old boys, as I firmly believe we were not put on this Earth solely for our own pleasures but to help ease the burden of others trying to navigate life.

  • During this time of year, friends always share opportunities to help others for the holidays with promises to "feel good about yourself" for doing it.

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    Coat drives. Yup.

    Collecting food for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. That's there, too.

    Spending an hour at a shelter -- but nothing super long. Covered.

    In support of charitable acts around the holidays, there really is something for everyone to try.

  • But that's the thing: I don't want to help so I feel good about helping; I want to make an impact.

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    Don't get me wrong, helping others feels good. It makes you feel connected, like you're a part of something bigger than yourself. Heaven knows we all need something positive to grasp in this world where everything seems so dark and despairing.

    Still, it's important to proceed with caution as it's easy to find yourself doing something because of how it uplifts you instead of the true purpose of the action required.

  • Giving back around the holidays will definitely help families in need. But once the Christmas lights come down, those same families are still in need.

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    As much as I enjoy participating in holiday donations drives and other events, I always wonder about the people we're trying to help and how they're coping two and three months (and beyond) once said donation drive and event are over. Sure, the boxes of macaroni and cheese, canned greens, and other items provided likely eased the financial burden that's been weighing on their shoulders for some time for a short period, but what happens to them after the holidays?

    This is a question I've constantly asked myself over the years that's prompted me with a feeling of urgency to look for a deeper way to connect and pay it forward.

  • There are endless opportunities to make an impact if we only open our hearts to serving others beyond a certain time of year.

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    The very places and organizations that often reach out for help during the holidays likely have ongoing needs throughout the year. Virtual giving and donations are also a thing, enabling all of the fellow do-gooders of the world to expand their reach and touch lives from afar. 

    Though most of my service to others has transitioned from fulfilling nonprofits' needs to addressing -- and working to reform -- policies that cripple families over the years, I still look for opportunities to be impactful throughout the year as tasting (and enduring) poverty growing up is a constant reminder to me of the help many need throughout the year when it's not the most popular time for people to give their time and money.

  • Because, honestly, we don't need a reason (or season) to lend a hand.

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    Yes, life -- and parenting and kids' school schedules, keeping up with the dog's grooming, and everything else -- can bog down our calendars, making it next to impossible to catch our breaths let alone dedicate time to helping other people.

    But just as we carve out a date or two during the holidays to consider other families who could use some support, why not extend that thought to encompass the year, doing what we can when we can to help who we can?