The festive season is the season of giving. If you’re looking to give beyond your friends and family, and want to give back to your community, look no further. Here are nine ways you might not have thought of to give back to your community this festive season. And one way you should probably avoid (even though it’s commonly suggested).
1. Find your nearest mutual aid initiative or network
You might have seen this term get popularised in the US—when the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged, mutual aid efforts were widely reported. It was about delivering essentials, groceries and prescriptions to vulnerable people. Raising money for those unemployed but who could not receive benefits. Pooling relief funds for people who were having difficulties making ends meet because opportunities were limited or cut because of the pandemic. And volunteering to provide child care and pet care.
But in fact, the concept has been around for ages: it’s arguably as ancient as human culture. Cooperation remains at the heart of mutual aid today; its slogan “solidarity not charity” makes clear what these initiatives and networks aim to do.
And what is mutual aid trying to do? Dean Spade, trans activist, writer and teacher, outlines three elements of mutual aid. One: mutual aid projects work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need. Two: mutual aid projects mobilise people, expand solidarity and build movements. Three: mutual aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviours. In short, it meets material needs, exists outside of current dominant systems, and is about building communities. Think “give back”, but in a radical way. Perfect for this Christmas season (especially with the shit show that’s transpired this year!.
Living in Singapore? Check out wares mutual aid.
2. Be kind, spontaneously
Getting involved in a mutual aid network is one way of building a community. But there are other easy ways of making your community a better place, instantly. This festive season, give back by being kind, spontaneously! Here are some ideas to start. Go to your local F&B establishments and buy a coffee for a stranger. (Some establishments have pay-it-forward systems, where you can purchase a meal in advance for someone who can’t afford it.) Pay for someone’s groceries. Leave a larger tip than you normally would. Bake muffins for your neighbour. And the best part? It doesn’t even have to involve money. Sometimes all you need to do is strike up a conversation, or give a stranger a compliment. Giving back can be easier than you think.
Oh, but do us all a favour and remember that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, even though it’s Christmas. Which means if you’re going to do something kind, please do it with your hands washed, or socially distanced.
3. Fundraise to support a cause
Ever seen birthday fundraisers? Well, the same idea can be applied to the festive season too. Instead of asking for gifts, especially if you have enough stuff already, and if you know those who are close to you can afford it, try organising a fundraiser. Support a cause you trust (or double-check with Charity Navigator), an organisation you’re close to, etc. But maybe avoid virtue signalling by using the opportunity to raise awareness too. Include a short blurb about the issue and additional links, so those who donate to your fundraiser can learn more.
It takes a couple of minutes to set up a fundraiser once you know what cause you want to support. You’ve got two options. The informal way is to just message your friends and family. The more formal way is to set it up on a website and link the proceeds directly to the charity, like gofundme. Take your pick, and then fundraise away!
Alternatively, spend some time volunteering to support a cause. Check out the non-profit organisations near you, and they don’t just have to be climate-related organisations. Organisations that support the LGBTQ+ community, PWDs, at-risk youth, etc. and even mental health organisations could always use some extra support. During the festive season, particular organisations and services are in need of help. Loneliness and holiday blues are real struggles at this time of the year. Especially for those who are isolated, such as the elderly, or those who aren’t close to their friends and families. And since it’s winter, organisations that support the homeless are crucial. All you need to do is ask around your community to see if there are particularly initiatives and organisations or look them up online.
If you’re concerned about the pandemic and physical volunteering opportunities, see if you can volunteer your skills. Are you a Photoshop wiz? Or maybe you’re great at copyrighting? Maybe even applying for grants? Have a car and some time on your hands to help with operations and logistics? Check in with these non-profit organisations and/or charities and offer your skills.
Living in Singapore? Check out Making Meaning.
5. Help keep tummies full
During the festive season, not everyone is fortunate enough to have food on the table. Volunteering with food banks and soup kitchens is certainly one way to start. Top that by trying to find food justice projects in your area. What’s food justice about? Food justice movements recognise that vulnerable communities are “severely impacted by hunger, poor food access, diet-related illness, and other problems with the food system.” These movements hence work towards “access to healthy food for all” and “examines the structural roots of these disparities”. The festive season is as good a time as ever to start getting involved in improving access to food.
And if that’s not an existing option in your area, think about how you can improve the food security of vulnerable communities in your area. Reach out to vulnerable communities, and maybe even try to redistribute food to meet their needs. Because we can bet there’s going to be quite a bit of food waste during the festive season. Speaking of which, apps like OLIO (a free sharing app) are great for redistributing resources. Got extra food, or ingredients leftover from preparing a feast? Share it with someone else for free.
6. Start a community garden
Speaking of food, one way to get involved with improving food access in your community is to start a community garden. Or get involved with one that already exists in your area! In the spirit of the festive season, grow and share your fresh produce with your neighbours, or even host a Christmas potluck (but don’t forget to gather in groups of acceptable sizes).
Oh, and let’s not forget that you can give back to your community by giving back to the land too. Look out for regenerative agriculture projects in your area, or make your community garden a regenerative agriculture project. Regenerative agriculture “is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertili[s]er use, and more.” Basically, it’s about going beyond not destroying and not depleting resources, towards actually improving them instead. The Earth will thank you later.
7. Donate blood
This might not be something you commonly see on lists this festive season, but donating blood is something that you could consider trying. In fact, if you’re healthy, you could consider being a regular donor. Why are blood donations important? There are many different uses for blood, and of course, this would differ depending on where you donate blood. It could be used for blood transfusions (in turn supporting procedures, surgeries, or just people who need blood transfusions on the regular to maintain their health). It could also be used in research, like COVID-19-related research.
Speaking of COVID-19, in case you’re wondering if donating blood during a pandemic is safe: it probably is. Health centres and hospitals are certainly maintaining safety protocol, increasing crowd control measures, and probably have extra precautions in place. If you’re unsure, check with your local health centre or hospital. In any case, the need for blood hasn’t stopped just because of the pandemic, so don’t worry about them not needing your blood—they do. (And maybe the festive season is a great time to confront your fear of needles… if you have that. At least Christmas music will be playing in the background?)
Living in Singapore? Find out more about donating blood here.
8. Support an animal shelter
If you’re going to go plant-based for your festive season feasting, consider taking it up a notch by supporting animal shelters. Did you know that animals are sometimes given as “gifts”? And guess what happens when their new owners realise that it’s not all that easy taking care of animals? Or if they get bored of caring for these animals? They get abandoned. Not to mention, some of them are left on the streets, in the dumpsters, and not even at shelters. What you can do about this situation is to find ways to support your local animal shelters. Donate to them, see if you can volunteer to help out, etc.—giving back to your community also involves giving back to our non-human community members too! (And seriously, don’t “gift” animals.)
Living in Singapore? Check out non-profit dog shelter The Right To Live.
9. What about all those gifts?
Speaking of gifts you shouldn’t be giving, you’re probably going to end up with way too many unwanted gifts this festive season. Especially if you’ve not gotten on the no-gift bandwagon (which, by the way, why aren’t you on yet?) What do you do with unwanted gifts? One way to deal with it is to re-home these gifts. Look out for existing community initiatives that re-gift stuff you don’t need to others who might need them. Or if there isn’t one yet, start one yourself. (And maybe even do an auction and send off the proceeds to a non-profit or charity). No time to start a community initiative? Give away unwanted items on free sharing apps or community groups.
Who knows? Maybe someone’s going to want that blender your third uncle gave you (that you seriously didn’t need). And what about that ugly sweater that your aunt gifted you? Well, here’s what not to do about it…
What not to do: charity shop donations
During the festive season, you might find yourself with an excess of clothes. Possibly because you’ve done too much shopping, or because you’ve received gifts. Or maybe you’ve just done a closet clean-out. But maybe this time, consider not dumping all your clothes at the charity shop to give back. Why? Because if the charity shop you donate to isn’t able to redistribute the clothes you donate effectively or efficiently enough, it probably gets exported out. (Along with our rubbish and waste, by the way.) Worse, as argued by Andrew Brooks, author of Clothing Poverty: The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes, it can even prevent the development of these developing countries that our clothes get exported to.
The problem is compounded when we think about the fact that what’s probably going to happen is that many people are going to be donating their clothes at charity shops during or after the festive season. Which means these clothes are probably not going to be going back to your community, just because of the sheer volume of these donations. So what? Does that mean we shouldn’t donate our clothes at all?
Now that you know, maybe consider slowing your consumption, to begin with. Or organise your own clothes swaps. Maybe pick up that sewing skill you’ve been wanting to learn for ages and upcycle. Or find alternatives to charity shops, like swapping organisations. Either way, let’s not overwhelm charity shops this festive season.
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