Christmas is a great day for traditions. Some families make a giant turkey, some roast chestnuts, while others tear open presents with grandma at the crack of dawn. This year, allow me to suggest a new tradition: Giving Back For Christmas. What better day to be thankful for the gifts you received, then give back to the world. There are so many ways to give- from volunteering at your local soup kitchen to hauling a trunk load of clothes and unused housewares to the Goodwill, to making a monetary donation to a worthy cause. Even the smallest actions can make a difference. So, in the words of my proactive father, “Just do something.” Here are some suggested volunteer opportunities, charitable organizations, and ways to donate. And from all of us at Inhabitat, have a safe and merry Christmas.

Habitat for Humanity



Habitat for Humanity, the well-known international non-profit that provides decent, affordable housing for those who lack adequate shelter, offers an array of volunteer opportunities, from volunteering on a build-site, to extended international building projects. If manual labor isn’t your thing, Habitat also needs volunteers to help out in their local chapter offices and to serve on site and family selection committees.

RELATED: 7 ecological charities to support on Giving Tuesday and beyond


The best way to make a real difference in a child’s life is to spend valuable time with them. From playing basketball to helping with math homework to baking cookies, or just being there to listen, millions of children lacking role models benefit from Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers. Through community and site-based programs, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been the most effective and comprehensive youth mentoring program in the country for over a century.


United Way is a national network of over 1,300 local organizations that work to create lasting positive changes in communities and people’s lives. Regardless of your skillset, time commitment, or level of interest, the United Way is guaranteed to match you with the right volunteer opportunity for you- from mentoring, health-related non-profits, or community development.


I’ll be spending my Christmas day at the St. Vincent de Paul in San Francisco, where their kitchen feeds hundreds of people in need every day. With chapters all over the country, you can help out in your local community by donating a few hours of your time to serve meals to those who truly need them. If food service isn’t your cup of tea, St. Vincent de Paul also offers a long list of other services that are always in need of volunteers: disaster relief, youth programs, counseling for victims of substance and domestic abuse, and prison ministries.

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For more environmentally-focused volunteer opportunities, The Nature Conservancy rely on the aid of volunteers like you to restore habitats, clean up beaches, and preserve some of the “last great places on Earth.” You can search for local openings on their website. They also have some great donation options like Adopt An Acre and Rescue The Reef.


If you’re looking for something specific, or just want to see what’s out there, try a volunteer database such as Volunteer Match or Volunteer Solutions. The websites are easy to navigate, and allow you to search for current opportunities by location and/or category.

Tree-planting, volunteering, planting trees


If your crazy schedule just isn’t conducive to donating your time, there are other equally as valuable ways to give. The holidays are a great time to donate a couple extra dollars, those boxes of old clothing, or even a few of the less-than-wonderful gifts from in-laws or long-lost random aunts. Here are some great ways to donate a little of your extra to those who don’t have enough.


Goodwill has long been the go-to place for those musty boxes of old whatever stashed up in your attic. But the organization is much more than a drop-off spot for used clothing. It creates jobs and helps fund job training programs for people with disabilities, language barriers, prison records, or other challenges. And 84% of all Goodwill donations stay out of landfills. What’s even more impressive is their E-cycling program, which produces zero waste by refurbishing old systems or taking apart non-working systems for their recyclable parts.


Promoting energy efficiency, research, and education, the Alliance to Save Energy undertakes a slew of research, educational programs, and policy advocacy programs aimed at lessening greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the global climate. Their list of programs is long and far-reaching and rely on a variety of funding sources including donations.

Giving Back For Christmas


The Make-A-Wish Foundation literally makes children’s dreams come true. Since 1980, they have given hope, strength and joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions, granting wishes small and large. You can donate to help grant a specific wish, or make monetary, monthly, or non-cash donations online.


Sustainable Harvest International is a wonderful organization that provides farmers and communities the tools for implementing environmentally and economically sustainable technologies. They work mostly internationally in Central American and tropical regions to help local agricultural individuals become more socially sustainable and productive. Donate online or learn more about their volunteer opportunities.


A wonderful way to support your child’s or other local school, Classroom Wishlist provides an online database for donating funds and supplies to individual classrooms. Teachers compile lists of supplies, you provide the funding for individually selected items, and Classroom Wishlist delivers the supplies to the school.

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For all you ocean lovers out there, Oceana consists of a team of marine scientists, economists, lawyers and advocates who campaign for the protection and restoration of the world’s oceans. They are a global organization of more than 300,000 members and e-activists in over 150 countries. You can make a monetary donation, or adopt a marine creature (dolphin, sea turtle, whale, or shark).

And if none of these particular organizations tickle your fancy, Just Give is a great online resource that can help match you with an appropriate identify organizations by category or location. You can donate to your charity of choice directly through their website.

Lead image via Yolo Farm to Fork