It’s the most wonderful time of the year.
In this season of gifting, one of the most appreciated gifts includes serving others.
As a military member or family, service is already a thread throughout your life, so giving back during the holidays probably feels like second nature. And, if you have little ones, you may be wondering how you can teach them to help others at Christmas.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to give back right within your own military community.
From now until the new year, consider doing small holiday acts of kindness to cheer up others. It will warm your heart and remind you that gifts aren’t always found under the tree.
Not sure where to spend your talents and energy?
Here’s a look at 11 ways of giving back at Christmas in your military community:
1. Organize a Roadside Cleanup
A ton of traffic comes through your base daily. Unfortunately, so does a lot of litter. Whether it comes from careless drivers tossing trash out their windows or unsecured garbage blowing out of a pickup truck, it ends up on the side of the roads. If it’s safe to do so, organize a clean-up crew to do a roadside cleanup on the most littered base streets. Even your neighborhood can benefit from this after a trash pick-up day!
Get into the holiday spirit: Create teams to see who can pick up the most trash in an hour. Or, sing Christmas songs as loudly as you can along the route. Don’t forget gloves, trash bags, and permission from the base authorities, if needed.
2. Fill Stockings for the VA or Base Hospital
If you’re interested in cheering up vets this holiday season, reach out to your local VA or base hospital. You could fill stockings with items like hygiene products, gift cards, or gently-used or new clothing. While you may want to offer staff items, too, under federal law all VA employees are prohibited from accepting gifts. Magazines, coffee, and coffee creamer are also welcome “gifts” for hospital waiting rooms.
Get into the holiday spirit: Schedule a meet-up at a local coffee shop that’s decked to the nines for the holidays. One that has a meeting room or large table will make it easier to create a stocking stuffing assembly line.
3. Spend Time at DoD Schools
Most elementary and middle school kids love it when their parents visit their classrooms. If your child attends a DoD school, see if you can make a special appearance for a reading session or other holiday event. Teachers love volunteers!
Get into the holiday spirit: Bring craft items to go along with the holiday storybook you’re reading. Pinterest has a ton of ideas for all ages.
4. Sponsor a Bake-off and Cookie Distribution
Love to bake? Invite your neighbors and friends to participate in a bake-off. Make your favorite holiday cookies and give them away. The local military hospital, on-base fire department, family support center, and other on-base offices would love your treats. See new neighbors moving in? Go say hi and welcome them to the neighborhood with a plate of freshly-baked cookies.
Get into the holiday spirit: Wear a Santa hat or other festive outfit to deliver your goodies.
5. Hold a Fundraiser for a Local Military Family
Not every family experiences joy during the holiday season. If you know of a military family that’s struggling — perhaps they’re dealing with a major illness or other financial setbacks — ask how you can help. If they’re open to receiving funds, get creative with a fundraiser. Host a Christmas talent show, set up a GoFundMe, or organize a spaghetti dinner and donate the proceeds directly to them. Enlist the help of those who know the family best to ensure the needy family gets what they really need.
Get into the holiday spirit: If there are kids involved, have Santa stop by to bring some gifts for the family.
6. Volunteer at Your Local USO
While you may have seen USO centers mostly in airports, these centers are also on bases like Fort Riley and Fort Hood. USO centers are run by volunteers to help active duty military members relax when they’re off duty. When troops are traveling for the holidays or just taking time off, they need a friendly face to welcome them into the USO. Last year the USO hosted more than 700 holiday events worldwide for troops. Even if you don’t have a local USO nearby, you can donate funds for holiday events.
Get into the holiday spirit: Wear a Santa hat and pass out candy canes along with good cheer to those troops coming and going from the USO.
7. Make Holiday Goodies
If you tend to bake way too many sugary goodies during the holidays, pawn them off on your service member. Have them bring your baked goods into the base to share with fellow service members and staff. It will keep you from eating every last cookie all the while spreading holiday cheer among military members!
Get into the holiday spirit: Turn on your favorite holiday jams and have a holiday cookie-making party. If you have kids, invite their friends and parents over to decorate the goodies.
8. Host a Care Package Party
If your service member is deployed, consider hosting a holiday care package party. Invite over friends whose loved ones are deployed so they can get theirs done before the holidays as well. Turn it into an all-day event by planning a holiday luncheon, too!
Get into the holiday spirit: Head to the store with your favorite military spouses to pick up bulk items like granola bars or candies. Don’t forget to pick up some yummy holiday snacks to munch on while you’re packing boxes!
9. Give Gifts to Your Military Exchange Staff
Military exchange staff put up with a lot of chaos during the holidays. Throughout the holidays, consider handing out Christmas cards or mini stockings with a gift card stuffed inside. A gas card, coffee house card, or Visa gift card will be appreciated no matter what the amount. Some baggers only work for tips at base grocery stores, so keep them top of mind when you’re handing out your cards!
Get into the holiday spirit: If you’re crafty, create handmade holiday cards to put the gift cards in before handing them out. It’ll add an extra touch of holiday sweetness.
10. Pay It Forward
Throughout your day, take notice of people who are having a tough time in your military community. Pay it forward however you can. That may mean handing out cards filled with cash. Or maybe you buy a coffee for someone in line behind you. Let the mom in the minivan take the parking spot closer to the store. However you pay it forward, do it with cheer.
Get into the holiday spirit: Leave cards with words of encouragement around public areas: On a park bench, library table, at the gas pump, etc. Just imagine the person’s smile who finds it.
11. Give Military Discounts
If you own a business — whether it’s a digital or a brick-and-mortar store — consider giving military families a discount when they shop with you. You’ll help them save a little during the holidays, and they’ll likely patronize your business again because of your thoughtfulness.
Get into the holiday spirit: Set up a wheel of discounts for patrons to spin in your store. If you have an online shop, segment your list by military customers and send off random coupons and discounts through the holiday season.
Give Back During the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Watch the people around you this holiday season. The more you pause for thoughtful reflection, the more likely you’ll be able to see people who need some holiday cheer.
Your military community is just one place to start.
As you go through this holiday season, take a look around your community for ways of giving back at Christmas. Not only does giving back cheer another person up, but it also brings you a sense of peace and joy that can only be found through giving.
Even if you don’t have the budget to pass out lavish gifts, your gift of time can be enough to brighten someone’s holiday more than you know.
It’s really the thought that counts.
What are your favorite ways of giving back at Christmas? Share in the comments below.