Whether you are volunteering with your family or buying an item that funds programs for underserved communities, it is never too early—or too late—to give back.In the South, we are so fortunate to be part of communities that nourish us and take care of us. From family to friends to strangers—who are just friends we haven't struck up a conversation with yet—we treasure the people who make our Southern communities special places to live. With all that they give us, we look for ways to give back, especially around the holidays, when we remember acutely that not everyone is as fortunate as we are. When our communities and neighbors fall on hard times, it is important to contribute, to give back, and to help build up those places and people who need help. There are so many amazing ways to give back to the community throughout the South, and we hope that you are inspired to contribute to a worthy cause. Whether you are buying an item that funds programs for underserved communities or volunteering with your family, it is never too early—or too late—to give back.
Spending a Saturday volunteering with a community organization is a great way to give back. It is also a fantastic way to include the whole family and teach kids the importance of volunteering. It’s especially important to impart values of compassion, generosity and “paying it forward” to our children and our children’s children, so take a weekend or an afternoon and spend it volunteering together as a family.
Especially around the holidays, local food banks receive an influx of canned goods and assorted foods. They often need help sorting, stacking, and bagging, so you can either donate canned goods to help feed families in your community, or find out when you can stop by to assist. Find your local food bank through the Feeding America network of food banks, which distributes 4 billion meals annually. Other organizations that offer volunteering opportunities include:
United Wayhas encouraged over 2.6 million people to give back to their communities by volunteering, and they raise over $5 billion dollars each year, which goes to supporting communities across the country. Red Crosshelps those affected by disasters. From blood drives to donations, there is no shortage of ways to give back through the Red Cross and to assist neighboring communities that are in the process of healing and recovering from disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. Salvation Army USAoffers Christmas assistance, housing and homeless services, hunger relief, youth camps, and so much more. You can contribute through volunteering or giving donations—anything from clothes to cars, so see their website for more details. Habitat for Humanity has organizations across the country and the world that are committed to building houses and supporting families. Habitat is an essential way to give back in your community, and you can contribute through donations or by helping build homes. Better World Booksis an organization that is committed to getting books in the hands of those who want them and don’t have them. To date, they have raised millions of dollars for a variety of organizations and have donated books across the world. They have also raised over $80,000 for the New Orleans Public Library Foundation.
The South is full of small, local businesses that contribute to their communities. From granola to clothing to school supplies, our neighbors’ businesses are in the business of giving back and are making real contributions to the region. By purchasing products from these organizations, you are contributing significantly to their causes, since a percentage of their proceeds goes to funding community programs. Seek out the businesses in your community that give back, either through proceeds and donations or through a one-for-one format, in which one of what you purchase is then donated to someone in need.
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Thistle Farms (thistlefarms.org) is a shared trade marketplace that employs women who are recovering from prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. Through Thistle Farms Home & Body, Thistle Stop Cafe, and Thistle Farms Global, founder Becca Stevens has created a community of support and social enterprise. Through the proceeds of these programs and the sales of Thistle Farms products, like hand soap, laptop cases, scarves, stationery, and jewelry, Thistle Farms provides education, training, and recovery programs for survivors.
An easy way to channel a community’s donations is through a central cause. If there is one local cause you’d like to support, then organize a bake sale. Round up your friends to bake and volunteer, and donate your proceeds to a local literacy program, food bank, or nonprofit organization. There are more than a few Southern Living recipes that would be great for bake sales, so browse the cake and cookiedessert archives, get to baking, and support your local causes.
You can do this any day of the week, and it takes no time at all. Whether you’re in the drive-through or sitting in a restaurant, there’s nothing nicer than picking up the tab for someone else. It is a wonderful surprise and will make their day. Simply point out the table, and inform your server that you’d like to pay their bill. You’ll provide some joy and—who knows?—you might start a trend that lasts all day.
Do you sing? Play piano? Paint? Use your talents to give back to your community. Donate your paintings to a silent auction. Get a group of friends together to sing Christmas carols or play the piano at a local nursing home. Donate old towels and linens to the animal shelter, or donate your time and take a dog from the shelter on a walk. There is no shortage of ways to give back, so get creative, donate your time and talents to causes that you believe in, and enjoy the community that you love.