The ultimate gift

drawing with woman backing a pie a boy wrapping a present and old woman reading a story.
Illustration by John Alvin

‘Tis the season to start giving!

The holidays are finally upon us and I want to help you give the most meaningful gift to your community this holiday season! Think back to the time when you gave your friend such an amazing gift that you even had a fuzzy feeling. What if I told you that you could also do that for a total stranger in need?

I’ve always believed in giving back to the community, so much so that I’ve donated more than 100 hours of my time. While the time I’ve spent is short, knowing that I’m helping others is something that leaves an impression to last a lifetime. As fellow human beings, the best thing we can give one another is our time and effort, which is why this holiday season we should give back to the community through the gift of service.

We all have methods to our madness. When it comes to volunteering, there are many reasons why, but there are two in particular which I’ve found to be the biggest motivations to give back. Besides the fact that volunteering is good for society, as seen in the multiple good deeds completed year round to help grow those around us, it also gives you a sense of purpose.

Professor Dawn Carr stated in her article for Psychology Today that “a key factor is assumed to be that volunteering serves to express and facilitate opportunities to carry out one’s sense of purpose.” Maybe some of us would volunteer in a heartbeat, but for those of you who need a little push, I promise that you’ll find this gift of service to be also impactful and beneficial to you.

Prior to my time in college, I would dread getting out of bed to volunteer, simply because I had never experienced it before. What I realize now is that it’s much easier than we all think.

The first time I gave the gift of service was in my Freshman year at CSUN; I remember walking into a church that I had never been to before and being welcomed by all of the regular volunteers. They immediately filled me in on the tasks of the day and were so appreciative that I was there to help. Most of the time, volunteers are needed to help the event flow efficiently; it’s usually simple tasks like setting up the room or passing out food.

Following this, a common misconception is that once you volunteer, you have to come back weekly; in reality, most places don’t require you to become a regular, but rather let you come and go as you please.

And for those busy bees who have close to zero free time on their hands, you can also give back by picking up a few canned goods while already shopping for groceries and donating them to organizations that need them.

The holiday season is filled with so many opportunities to give the gift of service to the community, so I had to narrow it down to two or we’d be here for days. If you reside in the Northridge area, you can volunteer with Hope of the Valley and help with the serving of hot meals and provide health services in the San Fernando Valley. Their service runs year round so if you love it during the holiday season, you can even continue on in the new year. Another option is the Los Angeles Mission which hosts annual and weekly events to feed the hungry and homeless. And while these two options are amazing jumping off points, there are hundreds of opportunities around us, so you can simply search online and find something that appeals to you most!

Yes, the gift of service is extremely important to those we help, but it is also a gift to ourselves and to our growth in society. I’d be silly to ask you to spend every single day you have off volunteering, but even if you can only volunteer one day in the holiday season, please give it a chance. I promise you won’t regret it.

Written by Danielle Armstrong