This year, we have come together as a community – locally and worldwide. From checking in with our neighbours to sharing shopping trips to avoid unnecessary exposure, to the early days of the pandemic when musicians, choirs or neighbours met online or on balconies to have a sense of community when we couldn’t physically be together.

It has been – and continues to be – a difficult time and with Christmas approaching, those hit hardest will struggle to make ends meet, let alone have “the most wonderful time of the year”, so helping out where we can is more important than ever.

Rules and safety guidelines will make it harder lend a (physical) helping hand, though of course there are options, but if you have a little spare, we will give you a few ideas of what you can do.

Shoe box appeal

We all know the Shoebox Appeal and this year it may be more important than ever.

It’s simple: Pack a shoe box full of gifts or treats so they can be delivered to children who would otherwise have no present to open on Christmas Day, may they belong to a family unable to afford presents or live in an orphanage.

Shoebox Appeals are run by a number of organisations so you can choose the one which suits you best or take a local one. The Samaritans Purse is running a Shoebox Appeal this year and you can check the drop-off locations online. You can also “build” a Shoebox online by choosing items to include and simply paying the final amount.

Children in Distress is also running an appeal and is including boxes packed for pensioners as part of their “Love in a Box”. Here, the boxes will be delivered all over Europe but you need to be quick as the last drop-off date is early November.

If you need a little more time, the Salvation Army also has an appeal going on where you can make your shoe box and drop it off in December.

Donate to care homes/homelessness charities

All charities need help, all year round, but especially at Christmas. With the current rules and limitations, you may not be comfortable lending a helping hand in person, but donations are always welcome.

Everyone has charities close to their heart and you may already have one in mind you would like to support but if you don’t, here are some suggestions:

You can help Refuge, a charity helping women and children escaping domestic abuse (which has been happening even more this year due to the current situation, more time at home and added stress). Instead of just donating money, you can choose to donate a Refuge parcel which can be an Emergency Parcel for a woman or child, a parcel to train a volunteer or to run a refuge.

To help a homelessness charity, consider Crisis as a place to donate. On their website, you can choose how many gifts you would like to donate and it will help give someone a place to stay over Christmas or support they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

If you want to make a donation to help children have a better Christmas, Action for Children is doing a Secret Santa where you can choose a present online to go to vulnerable children.  

Over winter and Christmas, more animals than usual are being abandoned so the RSPCA has a Christmas recue going on you can donate to. This will help the call centre, the teams out on the roads, or help microchip cats and dogs.

You could also look at local charities so you know exactly where your money goes. In Bristol for example, the Grand Appeal for Bristol Children’s Hospital has single or monthly donation options which can help families in need.

Just because we are working from home doesn’t mean we can’t do the usual fundraisers. Friday, 11th December is still Christmas Jumper Day and you can still take part and wear your jumper (at home or in the office or on a video call) and donate directly to Save The Children.

Shop responsibly

Not everyone has money spare to donate – after all, it has been a difficult situation for most of us, but you can still do you part by choosing where and how you shop.

While it is easy to look at the big online brands as shops are forced to shut or limit opening hours, you can turn instead to your independent traders. Most of them will still answer the phone and send you examples of their products if you request it, or they have a website or social media account. In this time, supporting them by buying your presents or decorations from there is the best thing you can do for them.

And if you can’t buy card locally, Cards for Charity or Animal Charities are always good options.

Support your community

All this doesn’t mean you can’t help out yourself, personally.

If you are safe and willing to get out there, take a look around you and see where you can help. From shelters to packing shoe boxes to giving out a warm pair of socks to the homeless, it is up to you. And if you would rather help people you know directly, then neighbours or friends would be grateful for a bit or babysitting so they can take a break or shop for Christmas, your elderly neighbours would probably appreciate a shopping trip or some homemade cookies in case their families can come and visit them. If you have children, get them involved by drawing some pictures for the local hospital or care home. Even if they can’t drop them off or hand them over themselves, they will still make someone happy.

Try and remember what we all needed most at the beginning of all this back in March: moral support, social contact in one form or another, and once in a while a helping hand when it was all too much. So that’s a good place to start.

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