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Giving back for the holidays

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Winter break is a great time for students to start actively volunteering in their communities. Nonprofit organizations are in desperate need of hands-on help as well as donations to help make the season a little more festive for those in need.

And if you’re waiting to hear from colleges or are otherwise stressed out by the college application process, what better way to work off nervous energy than by helping others?

For those ready to accept the challenge, here are some holiday ideas for more “entrepreneurial” high school students:

  • Organize a toy collection drive. Find a “Giving Tree” (or other community gift exchange for kids) or add contributions you’ve collected The Marine Corps Reserve’s Toys for Tots initiative.
  • Host a food drive or volunteer at a local food pantry or food bank. Check out Youth Service America’s service learning lesson plans for some ideas.
  • Gather classmates to make holiday cards to distribute to local nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, and to send to troops overseas. Visit www.redcross.org/holidaymail for specifics!
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter or a family crisis center. Enlist friends and family to help cook and/or serve a meal to those in need. Or organize a holiday party complete with decorations and presents. The National Coalition for the Homeless offers a number of ways for volunteers to help combat homelessness and support families in shelters. Check out Maddie’s Blankets to see what one local high school student is doing!
  • Organize a coat drive and donate the items to One Warm Coat.
  • Host a present-wrapping table at your local mall or help wrap presents for an organization serving others. The wrapping service sponsored at the Fair Oaks Mall by DECA students from Fairfax County Public Schools is a great example.
  • Sponsor a gift card drive and collect cards from local grocery and department stores to donate to organizations serving the needy.
  • Rake leaves, shovel snow, prepare a meal, or simply visit an elderly neighbor or relative. More than 50 percent of nursing home residents never have visitors according to The Senior Source. This simple gesture can make a world of difference during the holidays (and throughout the year).
  • Arrange a holiday craft party and teach your friends to make braided or beaded friendship bracelets as keepsakes for children in Iraq or Afghanistan. Mail the bracelets to US service personnel stationed abroad to distribute to children they encounter.
  • Host a holiday story hour at a local library.
  • Gather friends together and go caroling at a local senior center or a senior care community. Include songs representing other languages and cultures.
  • Organize a blood drive by getting in touch with a local clinic or Red Cross program in your area. To locate a blood drive or set one up, you can to Community Blood Center: High School Blood Drives or Blood Bank Locator Map.
  • Sign-up for a charity walk or run. There are walks for breast cancer, diabetes, leukemia and hundreds more. Winter is a great time to plan ahead by seeking out a charity, setting a goal, and beginning training. Don’t forget to get your family, friends, and community involved. Donations to your cause make great holiday gifts!
  • After the holidays, volunteer at a local recycling center to help manage the influx of post-holiday waste.

If you’ve never volunteered before and don’t know where to begin, here are a few websites to help get you started:

The point is to use time over the holidays to begin the process of community involvement and to give a little more than you receive.

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