The family Christmas spirit can extend well beyond the time the tree is trimmed. Many charitable organizations have holiday programs in which everyone can participate.
Richard Berg, senior vice president of the St. Louis chapter of the United Way, says holiday volunteer programs have always been successful. "[The volunteers] felt they got just as much as the people they helped."
Volunteering at soup kitchens is a generous gift of time, but giving can be as simple as buying a sweater for someone who hasn't worn a new one in a while, or as complex as sponsoring a needy child in a foreign country.
The following holiday programs are just a few of these charitable opportunities for giving:
*Families can donate new, unwrapped toys to local children who need them through Toys for Tots, sponsored by the Marine Corps Reserve Units. Collection centers are usually located in local businesses. You can also volunteer to work with the Marines to collect and distribute these toys.
Last year they received 8.1 million toys and gave them to 4.2 million children. The Toys for Tots program is located in major markets in 46 states. For more information, contact your local chapter of the Marine Corps Reserve Units.
*The Angel Tree program, directed by the Salvation Army, gives families the opportunity to "adopt" a child or family who otherwise would not have presents under the tree. Sponsors buy gifts and clothing for these angels according to their specific needs.
Usually located in malls, the special trees sport angel ornaments with names, wish lists, and clothing sizes. Participants are chosen from applicants and by referrals. Though some communities may not have a tree, anyone can participate.
For more information, call 703-684-5500 or your local Salvation Army.
*Give a literary gift through Workman Publishing Company's Book Angel program. Customers are able to pick an angel off the tree in each participating bookstore and purchase a book for the child. The bookstore wraps the book and sends it to needy children recommended from local social agencies. They guarantee that every child on the tree will receive a book.
Workman has sent out more than 200,000 angels to more than 800 stores this season. For more information and locations, call 800-722-7202.
*Operation Christmas Child is a personal way to send a present overseas to needy children in countries such as Bosnia, Hungary, and Thailand. You pack a shoebox with toys, candy, hygiene products, and other household items with a personal note. These boxes will be transported by airlifts and boats.
The program is sponsored by Samaritan's Purse, an international Christian relief agency. You can contact the Operation Christmas Child hotline for more details at 800-353-5949.
*World Vision is just one of the child sponsorship programs in countries such as Ethiopia, India, and Columbia. Twenty dollars a month will provide food, clothing, and education for your sponsored child as well as help build roads and bridges in the community. Letters and progress reports are sent from your child.
World Vision is an international group that sponsors 1.1 million children worldwide. 76 percent of the donations go directly into the program. You can contact them at 888-511-6565.
*Though many of these organizations do assist on a local level, grass-roots opportunities can be found at your local volunteer center or United Way office. They have lists of local charities and foundations where you can donate food, clothes, and money, or they could even direct you to a soup kitchen where you can serve the homeless this holiday season.