How to Give Back This Holiday Season

“You should give back because you genuinely want to help others,” said Kimberly Wolph, Oyster River High School (ORHS) nurse. “I think that if you are doing it because it’s an organic want, it makes you feel good because you know in your heart that you’re helping others in need. I think that it’s a reward just by giving.”

As the holiday season is upon us, many are wondering how they can give back to others in the community. From donating money to a local charity to simply baking cookies for a neighbor, there is a lot that can be done for others during this time of the year. 

“I think Christmas and these darker nights, when we have really short days, it helps us to become a little bit more internal. Taking a step back and being more reflective as to what’s really meaningful. Regardless of what you celebrate, there’s something really special about living in New England during this solstice time,” said Kristin Forselius, director of education at Durham Community Church. 

At ORHS, a program called End 68 Hours of Hunger works to provide food for families who need it. As explained by Wolph, End 68 Hours of Hunger is a program that “provides food for the timeframe that students are out of school on Friday until Monday morning. It’s not just for one person, it’s for the entire family.” Food donated to the health office goes to this program year-round. 

While the health office accepts non-perishable foods all year, Wolph said, “I do bags of food specific for the holidays. Throughout the high school, whether it’s through advisories or whatnot, people will give a specific food item that they would donate for Thanksgiving and for the gift-giving season. They receive a bag of food including the meat that goes with the meal, including all the fixings, stuffing and gravy, the roasting pan, nothing is left out.”

Wolph suggests one simple thing you could think about during the holidays, or any time of the year. “At any point in time, if you have stuff in your cabinet that you know you’re not going to eat and you know it’s nonperishable, just donate it. Go through your closet every once in a while, if you have clothing items that are in good shape, donate it if you’re not using it”

Many people donate food or clothes and, “those are all wonderful things and charities always need help. They need cash. The best gift is to just make a donation to that charity and don’t airmark it. Don’t worry about having to buy more stuff because you might not buy the right thing,” Forselius said.

Forselius gave advice about where to start if you’re interested in donating. “There’s always ways that people can give back and certainly people should lead from their heart and what’s of value to them. I would say, if you love animals you should go online and look into the local shelters.”

There are many other local nonprofits that would accept volunteer help or donations at any time of the year, but especially around the holidays. Foselius mentioned other local charities in the area, including, Crossroads House, a homeless shelter in Portsmouth, WaysMeet, a food donation center in Durham, Nature Groupie, an organization that does volunteer work outdoors, and Friends in Action, which provides opportunities for people with disabilities in Durham. Each one of these nonprofits support a different cause, so it’s important to find one meaningful to you. 

Furthermore, local churches often host events around the holidays open to the community. “We have stars on our tree at the church and anybody can grab a star and purchase a gift for somebody and then bring it in. It’s an anonymous donation, you don’t gift wrap it. It’s open to anybody. The more people, the better,” explained Forselius. 

She continued by saying, “the thing that I like about the way we organize it is that it’s very specific to what the needs are, so we’re not just guessing what people would like or what they need, we know specifically from working with the local charities what they need, so we’re really responding directly to what could be helpful to an individual.”

Maggie Sperry (‘21) is an ORHS student who sees the value in helping out others during the holidays. Through her church, Sperry has found many opportunities to donate, as well as volunteering in wrapping presents for Toys for Tots. 

“It’s a good realization to understand that people out there don’t necessarily have a Christmas tree. It’s getting a real-world experience to show how fortunate we are during the Christmas time but also allows us to give thanks because a lot of people are not that fortunate,” she said. 

However, if one doesn’t have the money to donate or the time to volunteer, Forselius said, “We also provide opportunities for people to come together and be in the good spirit of Christmas, silly things like Christmas caroling, just ways for us to get outside of the consumerism and to spend time together and get into the spirit of the season.”

Going along with that, Forselius explained “If we really want to make the world a better place, we have to start treating each other better. So, that starts with just who’s around you most immediately.” Simple things like spending time with your family and friends are things Forselius suggests to do as a way to “support them through the craziness of the holiday season.” 

Sperry agreed that on a regular basis one should practice, “just being kind to people. You can think of that in our school there are people who are using the Thanksgiving baskets or could be receiving gift cards or clothing from other places.”

Forselius also suggested, “everyone who lives in a neighborhood with sidewalks should be shoveling the sidewalk of their neighbor. Everyone should do that. Bake cookies or make soup for a neighbor who is living by themselves.”

Although the holidays give us the opportunity to think about giving back to others, Wolph explains, “instead of thinking real specific to the holiday season it’s a year-round need, there’s never a time where we would turn any donation away.”

Photo by Maggie Sperry