We’ve all heard that “giving back” is part of the holiday season in America, but what does that even mean, and how can we contribute locally? After speaking with several community members about the best ways to help those in the Greater Boston community, we’ve come up with eight suggestions for making your mark this winter.
Donate, and do your research
If you’re out and about in Boston, you’ve probably heard The Salvation Army’s bells. Giving has, thankfully, become part of our holiday culture. But before you toss your loose change in one of those red buckets, do your research. Think long and hard about the organizations that might benefit from your donation—and the missions and values of the organizations you wish to support.
Consider looking beyond the big names to small or medium non-profits, and those smaller organizations hurting for financial support. Looking for ideas? Former JewishBoston columnist Mimi Arbeit discusses why, how and when to give.
Consider how you give
Look into monthly recurring donations. Monthly giving helps organizations plan ahead and supports the sustainability of their work.
“Let’s say you want to give $100 to Keshet: First of all, thank you! Please, go ahead and make that $100 contribution—it’s super helpful,” she says. “While you’re at it, why not sign up for a monthly donation of $10 per month? That means that for 2016, you’ll end up giving $10 more than you had originally planned, and in 2017, you’ll give $120, but in small, manageable amounts that you might not even notice. So $110 in 2016 and $120 in 2017, plus you get the added bonus of knowing that you’re helping to ensure financial stability through leaner fundraising times.”
Give gifts with a purpose
Instead of giving material gifts to family and friends, think about making donations in honor of them. Not able to make a donation for everyone on your list? No problem! Think about a secret snowflake exchange, where each person in your group makes one donation (at or above the amount you’d usually spend on a gift) in honor of someone else in the group. You each get to choose which organization or issue to support based on what your recipient cares about, and they get to be surprised (and honored!) by your choice.
Some larger organizations also offer something tangible in return for a donation. Check out various wildlife organizations and think about adopting an elephant or a sloth (yes, a sloth!) in someone’s honor. You might even end up with a stuffed animal to give alongside your gift. Or, play your cards right with this donation and you might end up winning tickets to “Hamilton.”
Our Jewish tradition encourages us to think about the needs in our own community.
Naomi Sobel, a longtime Boston community member, shares why giving locally is important to her.
“I believe so strongly in funding local work led by and for impacted communities, and also know that those organizations can be hard to find for folks who aren’t in those communities,” she says. “So here’s a plug for giving to social-justice funds that already have those relationships. You can do it by issue—Groundswell Fund for reproductive justice, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice for LGBTQI issues—or by geography, like Haymarket People’s Fund in New England.”
Be an active ally
Giving is great—donating and volunteering are important steps to take as we think of repairing our world.
But here’s a push to think beyond giving: What does it mean to be an ally? Check out Safety Pin Box, for example, a monthly subscription box for white people striving to be allies via support for black women and completing measurable tasks.
Listen to yourself, and others
If you want the energy to help others, you need to first take care of yourself. Listen to what you need this holiday season, and remember that resources exist if you need someone to listen:
Domestic violence and sexual assault:
Many of these amazing organizations also accept volunteers. Beck Gee-Cohen, who moved to Boston this summer, explains why he volunteers with Trans Lifeline.
“I have heard of many suicides in the trans community over the last month, and there are more that I haven’t heard of,” he says. “I want to do something, be there and help my community stay resilient. Having thoughts of suicide doesn’t make you weak. I want to be on the other end of the line when someone feels the way I have. I take action to be a better human and to help my fellow humans.”
Volunteer on Christmas Day with ReachOut!
Looking for something active to do on Christmas Day? Volunteer with the JCRC’s ReachOut! program.
Maksim Sigal, one of the volunteer chairs of the program, describes why the annual VolunCHEER event is an important part of his giving back.
“I site-captained at Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly [last year], an organization that gathers volunteers to create and deliver holiday gift baskets to elderly and disabled individuals who otherwise don’t have family or friends who regularly visit,” he says. “It’s great to hear the stories of the guests I visited and how appreciative they are of the organization and its volunteers. Most of all, they just want someone to talk to and to feel appreciated. It was important for me to spend my day volunteering because it would be the best use of my time. Picturing myself alone on a holiday devoted to spending time with family and loved ones is painful to think about, so just simply providing some companionship to these individuals means so much to them. The feeling of knowing you helped put a smile on someone’s face lifts your spirits like nothing else. I look forward to volunteering again this year in the coming weeks; it has become a holiday tradition for me.”
Keep volunteering and keep giving
There’s an African proverb, “When you pray, move your feet.” Let’s all commit to praying with our feet throughout the coming year.
If you can’t volunteer with ReachOut! on Christmas, check out other volunteer opportunities during the year.
And if you can’t give financially now, think about how giving can be a part of your regular practice moving forward.
Challenge yourself: Continue learning, listening and being invested in your world.