50 Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season

50 Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season50 Ways to Give Back This Holiday SeasonBy Angela Law and Marissa Capodanno

Charity: It's good for the soul.

1) Give Them Shelter
One third of all the homeless families in America are in Central Florida -- the lucky ones live in shelters, some live in motels, and some have no choice but to live in cars and get ready for school at gas stations. Help Seminole County Families in Transition provide not only shelter, but clothing, hygiene products, food, school supplies, medical needs and other basic living and educational needs by donating today.

2) Raise A Glass

About 1 billion people throughout the world don't have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion don't have access to a toilet. The mission of Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, is to provide communities in developing countries with clean drinking water and sanitation services. Help by participating in its fundraising or education projects, or simply donate. According to the organization, just $25 can bring one person safe drinking water for the rest of his life.

3) Get Crafty
iVillage's New York staffers are putting together craft kits for Project Sunshine this year. The organization provides recreational arts, tutoring and counseling to more than 10,000 kids with medical challenges, in 150 U.S. cities. And we hope some of these hospitalized kids will find our little craft kits handy -- and fun. The idea is easy. Gather a group of people and divvy up a bunch of supplies (crayons, stickers, etc.). Project Sunshine will show you how.

4) Donate Pajamas
Snuggling up with a good book, in your jammies, is pretty much the best. And now, you can share that simplest of joys with thousands of children living in orphanages, group homes, shelters and foster care by donating books and pajamas to the The Pajama Program. Since 2001, the program has given out more than a million pajamas and books. You can buy the items off the organization's Amazon Wish List or host a pajama drive for a local chapter (sounds like a good excuse to throw a slumber party).

5) Give Green
Through the end of December, every time anyone facebooks/tweets/retweets (#text4trees) NBCUniversal Green and the Arbor Day Foundation's 2011 Text for Trees campaign, a tree will be planted. You can also text "TREE" to 46833 if you are not so social media-savvy. It's that simple. Each share also enters you in a sweepstakes for tickets to the Lorax premiere!

Other tree initiatives we love:

The Nature Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees program aims to restore 1 million acres of land in Brazil's Atlantic Forest -- one of the world's most endangered tropical rainforests -- by planting (you guessed it) 1 billion trees by 2015. $10 will plant 10 trees.

AmericanForests.org, focuses on reforesting within the states. People Towel's Plant-a-Tree Gift Set makes a pretty awesome present for anybody who likes to roll up their sleeves and get dirty.

6) Say Thanks to Our Soldiers
"In high school, I started a community service club and we took on the project of writing holiday cards to soldiers serving overseas. Writing out a letter of thanks and good-will takes hardly any time at all, barely costs any money and is an easy task to do with a group. It benefits those risking their lives to serve the country. While I've luckily never had a family member in the service, my father is a retired fire captain and having him gone just a few days a week was difficult enough -- I can only imagine what it's like for families who go months without their spouse or parent."

-- Lindsay Tigar, Associate Editor, iVillage Pregnancy and Parenting

Bring your holiday cheer to a local recruiting office (who might send your cards out for free) or give thanks to our troops, past and present, home, abroad, and hospital bound through AMillionThanks.org.

7) Be Santa's Helper
Toys For Tots, the Christmas classic sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, collects new toy donations and distributes them to less-fortunate children. Help instill the idea of giving by letting your kids pick out the toy they want to give, wrap the present, write the card and deliver it to the drop-off spot.

8) Donate Shoes
Weed through your shoe collection and donate your gently-worns to Soles 4 Souls. The Nashville-based charity has already shipped more than 16 million pairs to those in need but the demand is insurmountable. You can ship them to a nearby warehouse or bring them to a drop-off location (some are retail partners that will give you a discount on your next purchase). If you're not quite ready to part with your kicks, you can sponsor a pair online -- one dollar equals one pair of shoes.

9) Buy One, Give One
There are plenty of deals and steals during the holiday shopping season. Next time you notice a BOGO promotion (buy one, get one), donate the freebie to a charity collecting gifts for the holidays). It's the perfect way to contribute to a cause without spending an extra dime.

10) Start a Can-Do Project
Organize a food drive in your neighborhood, school or workplace. Organizations like Feeding America will help you with logistics, and some (like City Harvest in New York) will even pick up what you collect . Feeding America estimates that in 2010, 48.8 million Americans were living in households where they didn't know where their next meal would come from, and almost 60 percent of those households benefited from a food-assistance program. Feeding America helped to feed 37 million of them, including 14 million children and 3 million seniors.

11) Help Make a Dream Trip a Reality

Each year, the Make-A-Wish Foundation estimates that it takes 2.5 billion miles (that's 50,000 round-trip tickets) to make wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions come true. Through the charity's Wishes in Flight program, you can donate leftover frequent flier miles from Continental Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and U.S. Airways to help safely deliver kids and their families to their destinations during the holidays. These airlines (among others) have also partnered with Fisher House Foundation Hero Miles Program to collect miles for hospitalized soldiers and their families. To date, they have issued more than 25,000 tickets to service members.

12) Pick Up the Phone
Ring up that old friend you haven't spoken to in a while. Reconnecting doesn't cost a cent, and letting someone you've lost touch with know you value their friendship is the ultimate act of selfless giving. It just might be the best gift you both receive this year.

13) Be a Mentor
"I've been a mentor for two years with Girls Write Now, a NYC-based program that matches writing professionals with young writers from New York City public schools. We work on writing one-on-one each week, and spend time in the larger group once a month to learn about different writing genres. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama presented Girls Write Now with a the Coming Up Taller Award from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, distinguishing us as one of the top 15 after-school programs in the country. Many of our girls have been winners in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and 100 percent of our seniors go to college. My mentee is fantastic and I feel so lucky that I get to be a part of her growth as a writer and a young women, and support her as she looks ahead to college. I can't say enough about how great it is to be a mentor!" -- Heather M. Graham, Deputy Editor, iVillage Health

14) Tutor

"I help with free writing workshops at 826NYC (alias: the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co.) alongside the most fantastic, fun, talented group of volunteers. The same workshops -- book-writing, screenwriting, magazine writing, ANYTHING writing - are offered in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Ann Arbor, Boston and DC and bring a creative outlet to over 29,000 low-income, under-resourced kids in those cities. Everything the kids work on gets published, produced, performed, showcased or celebrated in some way…and the looks on their faces when they see their hard work come to life? Awesome! They offer a free after-school tutoring program as well. With creative writing being eliminated from schools around the country, it is important that we have 826 National. The organization lives on donations and its 6,000 volunteers. So, please help -- volunteer if you have time, attend one of the fundraising events, help us inspire the next generation of readers and writers. The lengths at which I can gush about this group and the amount of good vibes I have gotten back in return, are simply immeasurable."
--Angela Law, Associate Editor, iVillage Health

15) Foster a Pet
If a new puppy is on your kids' wish list but you're not ready for the commitment, you can donate your time as a volunteer or become a temporary foster parent for a dog or cat from your local animal shelter. It's a great way to test out the whole pet/responsibility thing with the kids. If you are looking to take the plunge, the Iams Annual Home 4 the Holidays pet adoption drive is taking place at nearly 4,000 shelters and animal rescue groups around the world. The goal is to find homes for 1.5 million orphan pets this season. Will yours be one of them?

Click here for 35 more ways to give back this holiday season.

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