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How families can give back this holiday season

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Tis better to give

With the holiday season right around the corner, thoughts are turning to party plans, gift purchasing and wrapping duties. But what about those people who are less fortunate? Can you help them? Yes! Here are some ways that your family can give back this holiday season without breaking the bank or maxing out the credit cards.

"It's better to give than receive."

How many times did you hear that growing up? Probably a lot. But that is because it's absolutely true. Even when you are pushed to the brink, stretched thin for cash and uncertain about the future, doing something to help those who are in worst shoes can warm the soul. Really.

So, what can you and your family do this holiday season on a tight budget to give back in your community?

Drop In and Decorate

Whether you are a baker or not, a cookie decorating newbie or old pro, "Drop In and Decorate" is a fantastic way that you can give to others. The Rhode Island-based nonprofit that is spreading the word about Drop In and Decorate was started by food writer Lydia Walshin. Here's how it works: you bake some sugar cookies, decorate them, and give them to organizations who will distribute them to people in need. The "drop in" part comes into play when you invite a few friends, colleagues, family members, neighbors or whoever over to participate in the decorating. Interested? You can find all the details on their website at dropinanddecorate.org or you can do your own drop in and decorate by bringing cookies to local nursing homes or homeless shelters.

Pick a pet cause

Locally, you can find many organizations that need help, supplies and more. That's what Erin Meyers, who works for the PR firm Edelman, and her family did while growing up in Houston. Her father would contact homeless shelters or a Boys and Girls Club and find out what they needed most. "As a family with a very tight budget on a normal day, and even tighter over the holidays, we could only give so much. We were surprised to learn that the things they needed most were those that were actually quite inexpensive. We've been asked for everything from packs of washcloths, to instant coffee, to candy for children. Usually a quick trip to a big box store like Sam's Club would net everything they'd asked for, and it saved the volunteers a trip to the store," Meyers said. For Meyers, the experience of giving to others taught her a valuable lesson about appreciating what you have, she said.

Can you spare a dime?

Do you have loose change hanging around? If so, you can turn that loose change into money to help others have a happy holiday. That's what Kim Guymon and her family do. "We ... have a tradition of saving our spare change all year. We use it to 'change' someone's Christmas each year. One Monday night in late November, we take the coins and run them through a Coin Star machine and then go shopping and buy as much as possible. Our boys learn about bargain shopping to help as many kids as we can with that money," Guymom, of Everett, Wash., says.

Knit one, perl one

Can you knit? If so, you can knit up a better start for a less fortunate newborn. Eileen Burkey of Save the Children says people can give back by simply knitting a baby cap to welcome children into the world through Save The Children's Knit One, Save One project. The program provides caps to newworks in Africa and Asia that are being helped by Save the Children. "Knit One, Save One is a multi-generational activity for the holiday season that families can do together. The project is engaging knitters and crocheters of all ages to knit a cap and write a personal note to the President-elect in support of saving babies' lives. Early next year, the caps will be delivered to moms and babies in Save the Children's programs in Africa and Asia, and the notes will be taken to Washington, DC," said Burkey.

Volunteer!

If you can't knit or are a kitchen dunce, there are more opportunities. From hospitals to assisted living facilies, there are volunteer opportunities everywhere if you reach out and grasp them. Check with local hospitals, senior centers and more to find the right opportunity for you.

Little cash? No problem.

Being strapped for cash isn't a reason to avoid giving.

"These days, few of us have extra cash, but we'd never even notice if every time we went grocery shopping we picked up a few extra items and put them aside for a charity. Imagine if everyone did this?" said Jessie McCaskill of The Shade Tree.


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