It is so important for Christian ministries to set an example, and show their congregations that the holiday season is more about giving than receiving. There are countless ways to make a difference for others in need, and with some creativity and kindness, your church can establish new charitable traditions right away. Here are ten outreach ideas that will help your ministry give back to the community this season!
1. Host a blanket making party
Donating blankets is a wonderful way to ensure no one in your community is cold this winter, and hosting a blanket making party at your church will get people invested in giving back. Donating a homemade blanket is especially rewarding. Tied fleece blankets are easy for kids to make and no sewing is required (see the tutorial here). Adults can make more complicated quilts, or collect new blankets to donate. Visit http://www.projectlinus.org/about/ for more information on Project Linus!
2. Put up a giving tree
A great way to interact directly with the needs of people in your community is to set up a giving tree at your church. A giving tree is a Christmas tree decorated with names of families that need extra help this season, and on the back of each family’s ornament is a list of necessities they would like donated to them. As members of your church leave service, they are encouraged to collect a family’s ornament from the tree and create a care package based on that family’s needs. Think of it as a charitable secret Santa! You can find families in need by connecting with local shelters or partnering with a less privileged church in your area.
3. Serve your seniors
Never forget about the important men and women in your city aged 60 +. The holidays can often be a lonely time for them, and it is so easy to encourage your church to do something to help. You can host a senior’s dinner, or have teen volunteers visit retirement homes for a meal or board game night. To many senior citizens having a visitor can be a huge deal, and a small gift or card can go a long way. For the elderly still living in a house or apartment, decorating for the holidays can be a tremendous burden. Arranging for church members to help set up Christmas trees or lights for these seniors can reduce accidents and ensure they have a festive home for the holidays.
4. Stockings for Soldiers
Bring your church together to give back to the people that give everything for our country. Creating a stocking full of personalized gifts for a U.S. soldier is easy and fun for all ages. Visit http://www.stockingsforsoldiers.org/ for more information about donating stockings to soldiers who aren’t home for the holidays. Stockings can include small candies, packaged hot chocolate or ramen soup, wool socks, paperback books, or letters. Stockings can also be made for K9 soldiers abroad!
5. Donate food for Thanksgiving
This one is a bit obvious, but during Thanksgiving, it is important to think of the people that go without meals on a regular basis. Many families struggle to afford food, and healthy meals are not a common occurrence. Donating food and money to Feeding America (http://www.feedingamerica.org) is a fantastic way to show gratitude and to give back to those who are less fortunate. Getting your church involved is a humbling experience, as many kids don’t realize that there are people starving in our country. Volunteering at food banks or collecting nonperishable foods can help those in need enjoy a loving Thanksgiving.
6. Hold a holiday market
Kick off the holiday season with a church market full of baked goods and gifts! Encourage members of your church to showcase their talents by selling handmade goods and treats at your church market. Invite the whole community to attend and make purchases that contribute to your programs or an outside charity. Markets are a great way to draw new people to your church and to raise funds for the new year.
Nothing is worse than being cold, and on the streets, One Warm Coat (http://www.onewarmcoat.org/youcanhelp/) accepts donations of new and used coats for people who can’t afford their own. The U.S. homeless population is often exposed to the most extreme cold weather for prolonged periods of time, and donating one or two coats you don’t wear anymore can be a big help! One Warm Coat accepts adult and child sized coats, and has many collection locations across the country. Even Americans that are not homeless can benefit from this organization because often parents with many kids can only afford cheap coats that are not warm enough or hand-me-down coats that don’t fit correctly.
8. Set up a hot chocolate stand
Hot chocolate can warm the heart and soul at this time of year, and setting up a stand on the street can bring joy to many members of your community! Simply buy hot cocoa packets in bulk and bring a hot water dispenser to set on a folding table. You can have kids decorate disposable cups, and have older members of your church take shifts giving away drinks. Be sure to bring lots of marshmallows, candy canes, and whipped cream! Or even a boombox to play holiday tunes. This is a very affordable way to brighten someone’s day!
9. Give to underprivileged kids
Donating toys and necessities to children in need is always a good thing to do around the holidays. Operation Christmas Child (https://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/) is a very popular organization that collects shoeboxes full of goodies to send to children for Christmas. They are always in need of packed shoeboxes that include, stuffed animals, small toys, crafts, school supplies, personal hygiene items, and clothing. Another organization, Toys for Tots (http://www.toysfortots.org/default.aspx) was created by the U.S. Marine Corps to provide kids with new toys, stocking stuffers, and books for Christmas. These toys can be larger than a shoebox and are collected across the country. Getting your church involved in these two popular charities can make a big difference for kids waking up on Christmas morning.
10. Have a holiday lock-in
There are plenty of kids at your church that could benefit from an opportunity to grow closer to their peers. A holiday lock-in is a perfect way to make sure the younger people at your church have a great time getting to know each other. Lock-ins are a prime opportunity for kids or teens to get in the holiday spirit and make lasting friendships within the church. You don’t have to do anything special to make the lock-in a memorable event. Most kids are excited enough by the concept of a massive sleepover with no bedtime. They could watch a movie in their sleeping bags, make gingerbread houses, play games, or do holiday crafts throughout the night. Recruiting young volunteers to lead the lock-in is a great way to build a sense of community at your church, and the kids will be thrilled to have the church all to themselves!