Editor's note: This article was originally published on Ben Luthi's blog, The Wealth Gospel. It has been modified and republished here with permission.
Christmas is by far my favorite time of year, but not because I love getting presents (although I definitely won't refuse gifts I'm too cheap to buy for myself). What I love most about Christmas is family time and the joy of giving.
Here are seven of the funnest ways to give. Hopefully they sound awesome enough that you'll try them!
1. Pay for someone's meal
In December 2012, at a donut shop in Manitoba, one customer paid the coffee bill of the person behind him in the drive-thru. That small act of kindness set off a chain reaction that lasted three hours, with 228 customers "paying it forward." Participating in an extraordinary campaign that size isn't going to happen every day, but you don't have to be part of something like that to make a difference for one family.
2. Fill the cart
This idea is definitely my favorite. I've done it a couple of times before but haven't been able to the last couple of years because my family couldn't afford it. Basically, you just head over to the nearest grocery store and fill up an entire shopping cart with canned food. It's ridiculously fun to pull entire cases of soup off the shelf and dump them in your cart, especially with the looks you get from other people. When you get to the cashier, you might get a look that could melt ice, but as soon as you tell him you're donating the contents of the cart to the food bank, you get to spend the next 20 minutes chatting with him as he checks you out, feeling grateful you came to his line so he could be a part of the experience. Both times I've done this, the cost ended up being around $300, but if you think about the people your groceries are going to, the money suddenly seems like nothing.
3. Deliver Sub for Santa
Last year, my wife and I visited the local United Way to see what we could do to help with their Sub for Santa program. We didn't have any money to donate gifts, but we were told help was needed delivering gifts. We grabbed a bunch of bags filled with toys and drove them around the city. It gave me a good chance to see, firsthand, the people who struggle during the holidays, and it was amazing to see how grateful they were. Every single one of them had a gift for us when we got there. They were all homemade, and I could tell a lot of work went into them. When they hugged us, I almost felt like we didn't really deserve it all because we weren't the ones who bought the gifts. We didn't organize any of it. We'd only delivered things to these families, but the people didn't care. To them, we represented it all, and they were ecstatic.
4. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
When I was unemployed at the beginning of this year, one of my favorite things to do was to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. I spent five hours every Thursday preparing, cooking and serving food. I never actually saw the people we were helping because the soup kitchen was set up like a restaurant with waiters and a small menu, but I got to meet a lot of other volunteers and talk with them while we were making and serving the food, and we got to help feed the hungry.
5. Do your own food drive
About five years ago, the company I worked for was doing an employee food drive, and different departments were pitted against each other to see who could bring in the most food. My friend, Shaun, and I decided we were going to singlehandedly destroy the entire company, so we got a bunch of bags that had the company logo on them, drove them to different locations and stapled to them little papers explaining what we were doing and when we would come by to pick up the food. We ended up bringing in over 2,000 lbs of food! We didn't spend any of our own money, but we probably spent 10 hours dropping bags off and picking them up. The closest I can come to describing the feeling I felt is pure joy. It was also great to see the shock on our coworkers faces when they realized they didn't have a bin big enough to fit all our food in it.
6. Bake some delish Christmas goodies
This is definitely my wife's favorite Christmas activity. The last Saturday before Christmas is set aside for browsing recipes, shopping for ingredients and baking. I look forward to it because we both love baking together and I always get a good sampling of each thing we make. Actually, I'm pretty sure we didn't even eat anything else the day we did this last year. As soon as we're done baking, we divvy everything up onto plates and take them around to our list of people. We usually spend around $50 on everything and make five or six different treats. It's awesome!
7. Miracle minute
This is something my wife did at her high school's senior night football game. During halftime, it was announced that she and some of her students would be running around the stands with buckets for just 60 seconds, trying to get people to donate money to the Arkansas Children's Hospital. In that 60 seconds, they gathered $260, which is pretty solid for a school with less than 500 students.
If you wanted to do something like this, you'd have to collaborate with the school administration, but it's amazing to think what people can accomplish in so little time when they're all working together.
When it comes to giving, putting money in an envelope is easy, but the best experiences come when you invest your time and talents to help others in need.