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Giving isn’t only for the holidays

MCT

by Caitlin Johnson

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Have you donated during the holiday season or volunteered at a soup kitchen? We can’t all look as good as Paul Ryan while washing dishes, but don’t feel guilty about your lack of holiday altruism just yet. There’s still time to make Santa’s “nice” list before he shimmies down the chimney.

Citizens are gearing up with their best red polyester suits, fake beards and collection buckets in tow. Across the nation, they will line up at storefronts and street corners, ringing their bells in hopes you will spare a penny or two for the needy. “Happy holidays,” they will say, voices muffled by the white mask of manliness, and you will smile in return, feeling good for contributing to society.

But how long does the charitable habit last? As the festive lights fade and Christmas trees are abandoned and forgotten, so too are the feelings of giving. Naturally, we progress into the new year with plans for the future and charity often takes a back seat. It’s not intentional—school and work begins again and it’s easy to quickly fall back into busy routines.

According to a recent USA Today article online, 30 percent of all annual monetary donations in the U.S. are accumulated in the month of December. An additional 10 percent comes in the last two days of the year, just in time for tax season. Soup kitchens and food banks are often overrun with enthusiastic volunteers from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and retailers prompt shoppers to collect food and supplies for community members who are less fortunate.

Can this spike in charity be attributed to post-Thanksgiving guilt? We already know the horror stories of Black Friday madness. It’s a hypocritical U.S. tradition to storm stores gouging our wallets, buying anything and everything we don’t need immediately after spending an entire day giving thanks for what we already have. I’m no better, of course. This year, I spent two hours camped in front of a store for an item I wasn’t even able to get. I tried to justify the madness by arguing my life wouldn’t be complete without it, but I was lying to myself. The only thing I walked away with that night was a sore behind and a heavy sense of guilt.

There seems to be something about the holidays that amplifies the satisfaction of giving. Perhaps it’s the feeling of togetherness, or simply the notion no one should be left empty-handed during the most cheerful season of the year. Either way, it is clear we are more inclined to provide for others when we are already busy thinking about gifting our closest friends and family.

We may forget the benefits of our generosity when the season ends, but there are many who still need help throughout the course of the year. Problems don’t simply fade as winter does. I’m not trying to be a summertime Scrooge; rather, I would like to offer a friendly reminder. There are many benefits to year-round charity work for those on the giving as well as the receiving ends. Volunteering during the summer months is a great way to add experience to your resume. It’s also a good excuse to use your time doing something other than watching another “hit” summer movie such as the next “Fast and the Furious.”

If you know where to look, there are plenty of opportunities to give back to the San Diego. It’s always important to help a neighbor in need and luckily for me, my neighbors include a food bank right behind my apartment building. I decided to take a short walk down the block to see what it was all about. I was impressed to see many volunteers scurrying about faster than mice on Christmas Eve, loading boxes with food and other necessities and handing them out to those without the means to support themselves.

I sat down with volunteer Scott Nelson, who told me the Santee Food Bank serves anywhere from 800 to 1000 families each month. Many of the supplies come from surrounding retailers such as Costco, Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens. The center also puts together “birthday bags,” which include cake mixes and decorations. Workers are always needed to sort and distribute goods during the week.

So when you’re going through your shopping list and trying to decide who’s been “naughty” or “nice,” don’t forget to make the holidays a little brighter for the less fortunate. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture—just something simple will mean the world to a family in need. Let the satisfaction of giving back motivate you to carry the tradition in the new year. If that doesn’t get you the hot new toy you’ve been wanting, don’t worry. You can still bribe Santa with milk and cookies.

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