If you were lucky enough to experience an abundance of food, warmth, familial affection, and good will last week, it might mean you're in a position to pay it forward.
December is a big month for philanthropy, and you can be a big part of that. Giving Tuesday might have already past, but, as Philabundance reminds, hunger is an issue 365 days a year. Even if you can find it in your heart to donate goods, to volunteer, to write a check or to offer assistance, it's worth considering a New Year's resolution, as well, to give more in 2016. There are many ways to make a difference.
Here are just a few:
Cut a check
This is an easy one. It's time to open up your wallet to the likes of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania, or the Cancer Research Institute.
Think big, and channel the issues that have touched your life. For example, do you know a veteran? Cough up $10 to Homes for Our Troops (www.hfotusa.org).
Volunteer (but really mean it)
If you think you can muster, say, three to five hours of your week for a community that needs your help, go all the way.
Bring your empathic heart, and manifest it in your body language and labor: Be ready to listen to some tough stories and to feel heartache. Consider a volunteer shift as a start to a long-term relationship with organizations such as the Attic Youth Center, an organization that develops a community for LGBTQ youth (email email@example.com); Habitat for Humanity (www.habitatphiladelphia.org); or MANNA (www.mannapa.org).
But remember, organizers at those three can smell an dilettante from the get-go. Commit, and you'll truly make a difference in any number of lives.
For the most part, these food pantries look for nonperishable, high-protein and kid-friendly foods, i.e. peanut butter, tuna fish, canned stews, and vegetables. Try to think healthy. Your prepared foods (think made-sandwiches, leftovers, or cakes) don't go very far. Why not host your own food drive? Both Philabundance (www.philabundance.org) and the South Jersey Food Bank (www.foodbanksj.org) give easy, how-to steps on the best way to glean goods for the needy.
Get gussied up for a cause
Galas and benefits are a fun excuse to get dressed up and have a great time in the good name of charity.
We like the Un-Gala that Cradles to Crayons is throwing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Giving Factory (30 Clipper Road, West Conshohocken, 215-836-0958, www.cradlestocrayons.org), or the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund's TOY event from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday (Fire & Ice, 312 Market St., Center City, www.dvlf.org).
Adopt or foster a critter
Dogs and cats are overflowing in Philadelphia-area shelters, and so many other strays wander Philadelphia and South Jersey streets during the coldest months. The Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (215-238-9901, phillypaws.org) and any area Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (215-426-6300, www.pspca.org) would be thrilled to see an influx of charity this winter.
Invest in your 'hood
This one is completely free. Do yourself and your neighborhood a favor and investigate, bookmark, and attend the next civic or neighborhood association general meeting in your neck of the woods.
Hear about the needs of others that might be mere blocks away, or get tuned into the volunteer opportunities and charitable efforts that your civic association is engaged in. You may get an idea for something as simple as visiting a neighbor with a disability, whose season could be brightened.
Give back to the schools
There are all kinds of people doing essential work to support neighborhood schools across the Philadelphia region.
In addition to Parent Teacher Associations, "Friends of" kind of groups raise money, making community partners and getting things done in the absence of resources such as nurses, supplies, arts programing, or making simple infrastructure improvements.
The School District of Philadelphia, for instance, takes donations (check out www.phila.k12.pa.us/readforyourlife/donate.html for some wish lists from schools).
Don't have a school in mind? Why not surf Donors Choose (www.donorschoose.org) for a deserving school in your neighborhood?
Give the gift of warmth
It's almost a guarantee that you've got a gently used coat kicking around that you don't need. Maybe even some gloves, a scarf, some hats, or boots, too.
You can't imagine yourself going through December and January without a thick, warm winter coat - now imagine those who don't. One Warm Coat, for instance, has drop-off centers around the region (check out www.onewarmcoat.org to find the closest one).
Don't have any coats but your closet is still full of fashions you no longer wear? The Career Wardrobe provides professional work attire for women joining the workforce. To donate that fly power suit that is just a touch too small, or those killer pumps that you just never wear anymore, go to www.careerwardrobe.org.
Tip your servers and bartenders
The holidays can be especially trying for those with jobs that require pulling shifts on the holidays. Servers struggle to get shifts covered, arrange travel, or afford time off to visit families and friends. You love their services year-round, but winter can be trying, as service employees feel the holiday burnout. Treat 'em right and tip 'em well, even if it's just once before 2016 arrives. It will make their month.
Help out a candidate you believe in
Whether we want to believe it, politics makes the world go round. On a national scale, Democratic and Republican candidates are begging for your dollars, as 2016's election cycle is already heating up. But locally, your dollars make big waves, too.
If you don't have the cash, those same candidates would certainly appreciate volunteers in the phone bank or on the ground, handing out fliers. Get off the couch, and get active.