The Christmas holidays are here! Most of us will have been slaving away at school, university or work - so there’s no doubt you’ll be looking to put your feet up and enjoy a bit of downtime.
But as you’re sipping away on that glass of mulled wine and chomping on your umpteenth mince pie, you might start to wonder about those less fortunate than yourself. Unlike you they could be without a home, family or any friends, not to mention nice gifts and a hearty roast dinner.
Instead, for literally hundreds of thousands of people around the country Christmas time simply reinforces how uncertain their future is.
Looking to Help? Here’s How
Luckily, you can help these people. Even better, it doesn’t have to require sacrificing all that time you’ve set aside for festive activities.
From buying your cards and gifts in charity shops, to running around dressed as Santa Claus, there are dozens of ways to do your bit over the Christmas holidays. Here are a few examples...
1. Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter
This is perhaps the first thing that springs to mind when considering ways to help out at Christmas, as we can all imagine what a hard and lonely time of year this must be for the homeless. Whilst lots of homeless shelters run all year round, many are set up specifically for the festive period. They need your help with cooking, cleaning and handing out clothing and toiletries.
Homeless charity organisation Crisis runs Christmas shelters in London which provide homeless people with everything from food and entertainment to dentistry, haircuts and manicures. Are you trained to cut hair or paint nails? Don’t hesitate to offer your services! And if you don’t have any such skills then don’t worry – the most important aspect of volunteering is simply chatting with the guests and making them feel welcome.
For those of you that live outside the capital, try contacting your local Salvation Army to see whether they need any extra assistance over the holiday season.
2. Shake a Bucket
Anyone can stand next to a supermarket till shaking a charity bucket and you’ll no doubt get extra points (and pennies) for dressing up as an elf. To partake, you need to find your preferred charity - try charitychoice.co.uk - and ask if you can help with Christmas collections. No skills are required, just bags of enthusiasm and a big smile.
At this time of year, you’ll find that people are extra generous, so that bucket will fill up before you know it!
3. Make and Sell Christmas Goodies
Who doesn’t love a bit of baking around Christmas time? It puts you in the festive mood, fills your house with delicious aromas AND you get to lick the bowl at the end (my favourite part). Even if you’re no Nigella, you can set aside some time to bake Christmas goodies, such as these pretty star-shaped biscuits or mince pies, before selling them to the public.
People will be impressed and are even more likely to donate if they see that you’ve put in some effort. And once you’ve sold all your creations, your chosen charity will no doubt be equally impressed with the money you’ve raised.
4. Pack a Shoebox
By packing a gift-wrapped shoebox full of nice things and sending it off to a disadvantaged child, you could really make their Christmas. Smile International's Christmas Shoeboxes Programme relies on the help and support of volunteers across the UK, who can get involved by making shoeboxes and encouraging others to do the same.
You can also help by offering to check and sort boxes, driving to collect them, help load the trucks, or simply donate towards the transport costs. Check out the video above for some useful advice from Smile on how to create your Christmas shoebox, including what and what not to include.
5. Man a Helpline
Charity helplines like those provided by Samaritans and ChildLine are hugely important services, particularly in late December. They receive a great many more calls from people in need during this period. As you can imagine, if you don’t have a stable home or family, Christmas can be a very painful time.
You can volunteer to keep these helplines running, but it usually involves a training program, so just be sure to get in touch as soon as you can. Of course, if you just want to support either of these charities you could help raise funds for them using one of the other ideas in this post.
6. Go Carol Singing
'Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!' Love them or hate them, Christmas carols are everywhere, so you might as well embrace it and get involved yourself. Remember: if you’re doing it for charity, it doesn’t matter how atrocious your singing is! Just ring one of your local charities, ask for an official collecting tin, don a Santa hat and get knocking on those doors.
If you really can’t face belting out the carols yourself, you can help by volunteering at a charity carol concert, getting people seated and selling tickets and refreshments. Check volunteering website Do-it.org.uk to see which churches have advertised for helpers.
7. Take Part in a Fun Run
I doubt I'm the only one that thinks running is anything but fun. That said, it's undeniably a great way to raise money for charity, whilst burning off calories from all those Christmassy nibbles. You don’t have to push yourself too hard either – these runs tend to vary from one mile to ten, so you can opt for a shorter one if you’re not feeling particularly fit.
If you really want to rack up those sponsorships, you know what you have to do: complete the fun run dressed as Father Christmas! Check your local paper or search Running Diary to see if there are any fun runs in your are. And remember you can always offer to help run the event if you simply can’t bring yourself to take part in it.
8. Buy Charity Christmas Cards
This one is as simple as thinking about the shops you're using at this time of year. You can do your bit by simply ensuring that you buy your Christmas cards from charity shops (and even your gifts too), rather than big commercial stores.
If you want to take it one step further you could volunteer to sell products in store or set up your own temporary Christmas card stall. To find charity shops in your area, use Charity Retail’s store locator.
9. Send a Food Parcel
The Foodbank Network is a charity that partners with communities nationwide to launch foodbanks which provide emergency food to people in crisis. Naturally, Christmas is a particularly busy time for these guys.
You can help out by assisting with the running of your nearest foodbank. This could include packing, sorting and distributing food, or by simply donating your own non-perishable items. To find your nearest foodback, use the map on trusselltrust.org.
10. Wear a Woolly to Save Lives
Friday December 12th is Save The Children's Christmas Jumper Day. You just need to wear a woolly jumper and donate – it’s that simple! The charity suggests a mere £2 donation per person, which isn’t much to you or me but can make an enormous difference to the kids being helped.
It’s also a great excuse to get creative and try making your own jumper, using felts, beads and other crafts. To sign up for Christmas Jumper Day, visit jumpers.savethechildren.org.uk.
What About Volunteering Beyond the Festive Season?
Don’t have the time or desire to do any of the above? Don’t worry, I won’t judge – this month is a time for partying and indulging too, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from you. But if reading this has stirred the charitable soul deep inside of you, remember that you can help out at all times of year, all over the world.
The opportunities on offer to do meaningful volunteer work in developing countries throughout Africa, Asia or South America are huge, and it's what we specialise in at The Leap. If you're interested in finding out more, you can get a useful overview of the types of volunteering abroad programs you could take part in right here.
Have you got any other ideas for ways to help out over Christmas? Let's hear them - just post your thoughts in the comments box below.
on 04 / 12 / 2014