The holidays are here in full force, so you’re likely making your gift list and checking it twice. But is anyone on that list someone you don’t know?
It might sound like a hare-brained idea (“I already have so many people to give to!” I can hear you saying), and I get it. But it doesn’t take much to make someone’s season brighter, especially if they’re in need. Sometimes a simple scarf, a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, or just a few much-needed toiletries can turn someone’s entire year around. And isn’t sharing with others the theme of the season?
We asked real people across the country about why they give gifts to strangers during the holidays. The responses may inspire you to start a new giving tradition of your own.
Krista McCord and her family join together to give homeless kids what they really need (and want) during the holidays.
“My sister-in-law always shares a list of Christmas gift wishes from homeless teens,” says McCord. “It breaks my heart, because they’re mostly asking for shoes and jackets and very few novelty items. We work hard to get everything on their list. I am so thankful that I am able to help. I also do a Toys for tots drive at work.”
McCord’s reason for giving is simple: “I give at Christmas because I can. I am thankful for what I have and that I am able to share,” she says. “I want other people to feel like they are loved and cared about.”
Wes Hough and his wife give so they can make the world a kinder place and set a great example for their children.
“We live in Delaware, and it regularly gets below freezing here now. Particularly at night,” says Hough.
“This year my wife and I decided we’re going to make scarves to tie to light poles for the homeless here,” he continues. “I want to do something nice and positive since I feel like so much of our lives have been consumed by negativity lately.”
“I’m trying to set an example for my children —especially my 6 year old — that selflessness and charity are admirable traits. My kids inspire me to be better.”
Miriam Campos and her children make hats for babies to pass on the same kindness they were once afforded.
“In the next few weeks we will be delivering baby beanies made by my kiddos and myself to the three hospitals where my kids were born,” says Campos.
“All three of the pregnancies were difficult, but the last one was the most memorable. Jonathan was hospitalized for 5 days due to having a fever a few hours after being born. He was moved to the intensive care and the staff there comforted him with a beautiful crocheted blanket made by senior citizens living in nearby facilities.”
“We started the project last year, but we didn’t quite make them all on time so this year, The Campos family is coming to town!”
Alice Garibaldi and her husband adopt a family each year. Their reason? To let others know that someone cares.
“We adopt a family in Pajaro, California each year,” says Garibaldi. “The people we give to are usually migrant workers who have no work during the coldest parts of the winter. We provide clothing, toys, groceries and sometimes special wishes like a microwave. I coordinate this with a few friends and we really give them a Christmas to remember.”
“I also give toys and food to our local resource center,” she continues. “And I make donations to the humane society.”
“I want to share what I have, and feel like life is so unfair,” Garibaldi adds. “Why do some of us have so much and others struggle always?”
“I just want to help and show someone cares, even an anonymous someone. It’s easy to focus on yourself and those you love. I try to spread the love and realize we all need help sometimes.”
Jasmine Williams and her family have a different kind of tradition. Every Christmas, they show their appreciation and gratitude to service workers. And each year, they learn a little more about grace.
“Every year, the night before Christmas Eve, my family picks a restaurant and goes out to dinner. No matter how good or bad our service is, we give our server a 100 percent tip,” says Williams.
“Over the years, we’ve been to many different restaurants to celebrate the holiday tradition, but there’s one I will never forget. I sat down at the table across from my mom and sister, the three of us already grinning as the waiter introduced himself. A few minutes later, he headed back over with waters while we read over the menu. Except, we never got a chance to drink them. Our waiter somehow managed to drop an entire tray of ice waters directly into my lap.”
“My sister and I both assumed we were leaving to go home, but my mom told us we were staying. I couldn’t believe she wanted to stay and eat dinner there, let alone tip the waiter at all. But our tradition only has one rule: we must tip 100% regardless of the quality of service we receive.”
“As an adult, this is still my favorite holiday tradition because it has taught me an important life lesson in gratitude and giving others a little more grace. It’s not a lesson that we could have learned from a self-help book, college class, or life coach. It’s one that we had to learn through action. I’m grateful to my mom for starting the tradition and even for that tray of ice waters, which brought me that a-ha moment.”
Samantha Torrez and her husband Pedro strive to lessen the burden that families feel — especially during the holidays.
“My husband Pedro and I live in Pittsburgh, PA, but he is originally from Guatemala,” writes Torrez in an email.
“Each Christmas, we visit his family in Guatemala for the holidays. We host an event in which we distribute baskets full of rice, beans, soup, toilet paper, toothbrushes and other necessities to families in need in his hometown.”
“Last Christmas, with our personal contributions and contributions of family and friends, we were able to provide 200 baskets. This year, we intend to provide 225-250 baskets. This project connects us and those closest to us to a group of people we have never met before but who we know are in great need. As Guatemala is the fourth most undernourished country in the world, the impact this project has on impoverished families is nothing short of amazing. The families greatly enjoy our event, which includes festive food and drink and Christmas music before the baskets are distributed.”
“Sometimes the smallest things, like a basket of basic goods, can have a huge impact on someone else’s life. When your actions come from a place of love, they have a tremendous effect on others and can often create a ripple effect.”
Finally, Jen Fry has taken a lesson from her mother, a woman who has everything. Instead of filling her house with more gifts — she’s paying it forward to those who don’t have enough.
“My mom is in her 80s and has almost everything you can imagine, so buying gifts for her is always difficult,” Fry writes in an email.
“About 4 years ago after hearing my mom consistently talk about downsizing, I realized that I wasn’t helping by always buying her gifts for her birthday and holidays. Although she loved them (or said she did), I knew they were just adding up in her house. It was at that point I decided instead to sponsor women of her age during Christmas and buy them gifts.”
“Now, I sponsor two elderly single women and their caretakers and buy them Christmas gifts. These women not only want Christmas gifts, they need them. My money goes a long away because instead of buying my mom some new electronic device, I get to buy these women clothing, house supplies, or anything else they would like.”
“While it is important to buy those you love gifts, I feel it is more important to help those who are in need of love as well.”
This holiday season, it’s important to remember your blessings and think outside yourself.
If you think outside that box (that you’re planning to give to your family), you’ll be making a huge difference to whoever you give to, even if you never meet them face-to-face. After all, when you help someone you may not know have a better holiday, that’s the true spirit of the season.