Tales of people giving their time to help others during the holidays are plentiful this time of year. Read our story, "The Power of Connection," to see how some plan to reach out to citizens in need during Thanksgiving and beyond.
Inspired by those stories of hope? There are plenty of ways to give back if you feel so inclined, and some are as easy as clicking a button.
United Service Organizations offers various drives for soldiers. Sponsor the cost of a phone call home or call your local USO division to find out how you might help directly. Yankee Candle Company is also this year selling Thanksgiving-themed candles with scents like sweet potato. Part of the proceeds from the candles go to support the USO's programs.
2. Invite Someone Over
Know of a lonely relative? A neighbor far from home? A student unable to go home for the holidays? Consider offering up a seat at your dinner table this Thanksgiving.
3. Visit a Retirement Home
Retirement homes are likely to have at least some residents who won't see family members during Thanksgiving. Determine what visiting hours are first, and bring a small gift if you so desire — or simply give the gift of good conversation.
4. Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen
Soup kitchens see an influx of volunteers during the holidays, but it's important to remember that hunger is a year-round problem. Still, most soup kitchens are grateful for the extra volunteers. Call local churches or check out Homeless Shelter Directory to find local shelters, pantries and soup kitchens.
5. Donate to Food Banks
Chances are, you have extra cans of food in your pantry right now. Go look. Now consider donating those cans. First, find a local food bank, then determine what it needs. Think outside the box: Sometimes pantries are in need of non-edible supplies, like soap and toothbrushes.
6. Respect Your Elders
Meals on Wheels delivers daily more than 1 million meals to the home-bound, and many of those served by the program are elderly. According to data collected by Meals on Wheels, the number of food-insecure senior citizens increased by 88 percent between 2001-2011. The organization is always looking for volunteers.
7. Visit a Hospital
Hospitals don't take a break for the holidays. Call your local hospital to find out if it will accept volunteers for Thanksgiving. Offer to distribute food, bring small gifts to children or elderly, or simply sit and visit with someone.
8. Click a Button
Can't get away from home this Thanksgiving? You can give gifts of individual food items, feed a family for several weeks, or even organize a virtual food drive through www.feedingamerica.org.
9. Find Time for Four-Legged Friends
If you'd rather spend your holiday with pets than people, that's your prerogative. PetFinder.com is one resource for people who want to learn how to volunteer with — or donate to — animal shelters. It even offers information on how to foster needy animals.
10. Find a New Cause
Websites like VolunteerMatch.org provide resources for people who want to help, but might not know exactly where to start. Search by city, causes you care about — even browse by subject, such as disaster relief, literacy or hunger. Don't see anything you like? Sign up for email updates about new causes that might make a better fit.
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