Sharon Koehler

Artistic Stone Design

No matter who you are, what you celebrate or how you celebrate it, the holidays are upon us once again. The crowds in the stores have become harried. Online sales soar and delivery drivers seem to work around the clock. Everybody is watching the calendar to make sure they get everything on time. Credit card balances get higher while bank balances get lower. Grocery stores get low on favorite festive foods like cranberry sauce, yams, turkeys and hams. I get a headache just thinking about it.

Besides picking the perfect gift for everyone on your list, think about doing some good this year for the less fortunate. This year there will be even more people hurting at the holidays and taxing already overcrowded systems. With the devastation of Harvey and Irma, some people have lost everything and a lot of people cannot rebuild in 3-4 months. The point is, more people than usual will need help this holiday season in 2017.

How can I help? That, my friends, is an excellent question! There are lots of ways to help out at the holidays. We all see the Salvation Army bell ringers in malls and storefronts. You can drop a buck or two in the red kettle and feel good, but besides that, there is so much more you can do. 

Angel Tree

One charity to consider is the Angel Tree program. Find a place in your area that has an Angel Tree (usually a mall, a Wal-Mart, car dealers, TV or radio stations). When you pick a “tag” off the tree, it has a child’s first name and age, plus some info on clothing sizes and toy preferences. Then you go shopping and return all the unwrapped gifts with the Angel tag to the site where you got it. It’s simple and it’s gratifying. 

We adopted an Angel last year as a company. Before we brought the gifts back to the Angel Tree site, we put them on display in the breakroom so everyone could see what their donations bought for “Our Angel.” The child got a coat, gloves, hat, a scooter, books and some other things as well. The children’s families are prescreened, so you know your help is getting to a child who needs it. You donate the gifts unwrapped so the child’s family can wrap them and be a part of the process. There is also a similar program for senior citizens. It works pretty much the same way and it’s called Silver Bells.

Across the country are also Christmas Mother Programs. The local Christmas Mother committee elects a Christmas Mother to organize and spearhead the program. Christmas Mother then teams up with local social services, schools and churches to search out families that might need their help. As with the Angel Tree program, families are local and they are screened for eligibility. Donation drives and contribution boxes are placed in various areas to make it easy for people to donate. In my area, all donations are taken to a large warehouse and sorted. Then the eligible families are invited in to “Christmas shop” for what they need. All workers are volunteers, so all monies and goods collected go straight to the people who need the help. It might be a little different in your community, but the theme is the same: “Help someone who needs it.”

If helping military personnel is more your style, you can do that as well. All around the country there are Adopt a Soldier or Adopt a Serviceperson programs. You can contact your local base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation office (MWR office) to see how the program works in your area. If you can’t get in touch with them, then you can also contact your local USO and Armed Forces YMCA. 

It’s actually quite simple. You sign up to invite service personnel to your home on Thanksgiving or Christmas and treat them like you would a valued family member. Holidays can be difficult for service members because a lot of times they are away from their home, their family and friends. Think how much it would mean to a service member to eat a home-cooked meal in a nice family environment, instead of a chow hall, or sitting alone in a local restaurant. 

A Helping Paw

Through all of this, don’t think for one minute that animals have been left out of the mix. A lot of animal shelters have trouble getting enough volunteers to help out during the holiday season. 

People travel during the holidays or they have family come to visit and they find that they just cannot be free to do their usual volunteer time. Many, many shelters encourage short-term home situations during this time of year. You pick up an animal and you keep it for the duration of the holiday (usually 3 or 4 days) and then you return the animal to the shelter and go about your life (or possibly fall in love and adopt the critter, whatever it may be).

Obviously, there are many more ways to help. They can’t possibly all be listed here, but just figure out what makes you comfortable. What can you do to help someone? What can you do to make a difference? What can you do to enrich one life? Then (to steal a line from Nike), Just Do It!

Please send your thoughts on this article to Sharon Koehler at .