Help Others to Help Yourself at the Holidays

Christmas gift for homeless manWith the holidays comes more stress and worry for all of us. Stress can come in many different forms. This stress and worry can be centered on finances, time, or upcoming get-togethers. It can become a time of hustle and bustle and mass spending.

I watched a group of friends, right after our Thanksgiving meal, spread out the sale ads on the floor and began circling items and preparing their plan for their Black Friday shopping spree. They collaborated with each other about how each of them would go to different stores to purchase different things for each other. They also determined that they each needed a runner that could run around the store while they waited in line to get the “special deals”.

It was a frantic process, and it was exhausting just to watch them. Was this worth all the money that they saved? If I asked them they would say, “Absolutely! These are great deals.”

Some of us worry about finding the right gift for everyone on our list and scramble from store to store trying to achieve this objective. Others worry about whether their families and friends will like the baked goods they made this year because their budgets were too tight to buy presents. Stress can also arise when we are separated from our family and friends or when we are alone.

For many of us the holidays become a blur of tasks, errands, or chores to complete. This leaves us little time to just slow down and enjoy the season. Our priorities shift and we can fall prey to the advertisers and media promotions about toys, gifts, or gadgets that are now on the market.

Most of us don’t think about needing a warm place to live or scrambling to find something to eat. However, this can be a reality for many families this holiday season. Ever been alone on a holiday? What was that like? What if you could focus on someone else that may be in need? Would that change your stress level?

A week ago, I read an article in my local paper that was asking for donations for the upcoming holidays and the need that they estimated. In my town with a population of about 39,000 (comprised of many military and elderly individuals and with a median household income around $39,000), it was estimated that both the Salvation Army and a local church expected to serve 500-550 families this Thanksgiving.

Further, the report said that in 2012 this same Salvation Army provided over 40,000 meals. This year the Salvation Army in our town has partnered with our rescue mission to better serve our homeless population. It was anticipated that they alone would serve 300 meals. The local food bank stated they were giving out Thanksgiving baskets (with a full meal) to over 850 families. They expected to hand out around 800 Christmas baskets. Putting together and distributing this number of baskets takes many volunteer hours, they reported.

This article got me thinking about the need across America. In 2008, when the economic crisis hit, I began hearing more about hunger in the United States. I began seeing more organizations asking for help to feed kids in America.

In 2011, a government report (Coleman-Jensen) was published showing the increased number of individuals in the US suffering from hunger. According to a hunger relief charity, Feeding America, they are providing food annually to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. In 2006, they reported feeding 25 million Americans, including 9 million children. That means one in eight Americans now relies on Feeding America for food and groceries (

The season for me is about giving, not about buying or receiving the perfect gift, going into debt, or losing track of what is important—which can be easy to do with all the advertising and sales that companies employ to get you to spend money.

I challenge each of you reading this to find some time to give back to your community. That could be anything from a cash donation to your local food bank or homeless shelter to volunteering your time to serve meals or helping to put together baskets for families in need. What can you do this holiday season to help someone in need and relieve your stress?


  1. Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson. (2011).”Household Food Security in the United States in 2010.” ERR-125, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Econ. Res. Serv.
  2. (2010). Hunger Study 2010. Retrieved 1 December, 2013 from

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Teresa Collett, PsyD, LMFT, Worry Topic Expert Contributor

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  • Leave a Comment
  • guy smith

    December 4th, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    For many of us the holidays become a blur of tasks, errands, or chores to complete. This leaves us little time to just slow down and enjoy the season. Our priorities shift and we can fall prey to the advertisers and media promotions about toys, gifts, or gadgets that are now on the market.

  • Deb

    December 4th, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    One of the best things that you can do if you don’t have money to give is to simply give your time. There are many shelters and community centers that just need volunteers to help with the sheer numbers that they are serving during this busy time of the year. You can help sort clothes, serve meals, or sometimes just be there for someone to talk to. But if you give of your time what you receive in return is certainly going to be more than what you would have thought. This is a community that is severaly underserved and underfunded. If you could do just one thing to help, this would be a great time to do it and would really make a positive difference in someone’s life, especially yours.

  • Izzy

    December 5th, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    Really shouldn’t it be just about helping others at any time, and not just baout how helping others can help you?

    I mean I get it that this is the only way that you will ever give some people to give back, but this is kind of the mandate that we should do even if we get anything out of it personally or not.

  • Joelle

    December 5th, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    It’s very hard to justify worrying about the great gifts that you will give and receive when there are so many others who are worried about their next meal and a warm place to sleep tonight. #food for thought

  • dixie

    December 6th, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    In the town where I live, thankfully there are so many wonderful churches and missions who are stepping up to meet this ever growing need in town. It is sad to see all of the families who come through and need the help but it is also wonderful to see all of those who are getting involved. These are the people who recognize that there is a real problem with the system and that for the common good we all have to step in and do more. It is not just about feeling good anymore; now it is about doing the right thing and doing for others what I would hope someone would have the decency to do for me and my own family if ever we find ourselves in this same situation.

  • gb

    December 7th, 2013 at 9:21 AM

    I know that this isn’t the right thing to say, but do you think that we could do more good trying to get them jobs and ways into meaningful employment instead of just more meals and showers?
    I am not against giving to those in need, believe me, I think that this is something that would do all of us some good.
    But there also comes a time when we must begin to teach others how to take care of themselves as well, and many times just continuing to hand out for free the same things over and over does nothing to improve their living situations.

  • Heather A Vandegrift

    December 10th, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    Your comment about “we could do more good trying to get them jobs and ways into meaningful employment instead of just more meals and showers”, isn’t the “wrong” thing to say; it’s just slightly uninformed. Did you know that over half of the homeless in America ARE employed? That most of the families who need assistance from food banks work at least 40 hours, if not more than one job? And since the economic crisis hit, there are fewer jobs to be had in certain industries, like construction, so there is a much greater amount of people looking for work in unskilled/ uneducated fields like fast food and general construction day labor, the fields typically filed by the homeless and the needy. If slightly more skilled and qualified workers are now in the workforce, with high school educations or higher, where are the unskilled, less educated people going to work? And also, how is that former construction foreman that is now working at Lowe’s just to keep a roof over the head of his family of 5 supposed to feed them? My point is, sometimes people don’t need to be treated like they are lazy and expecting others to give them handouts; sometimes they are doing the best they can with what life has shoved down their throats and just need help feeding their children and themselves. Sometimes, mental illness is a factor and they CAN’T work, but there are no more state run institutions to help them and getting SSI disability for mental illness is nearly impossible, so they go homeless and hungry until they commit a crime, in which case the state HAS to treat them while they are incarcerated. So before giving the “give a man a fish” speech for why feeding hungry people “for free… over and over does nothing to improve their living situations”, walk a mile in their shoes; work their 80 hour work week and then go home to the children that they still can’t afford to feed; live for one moment inside the head of someone with a mental illness (which is NOT a character defect, by the way, and NEVER something the person suffering from it chooses to have!). Remember, we are all only a few bad decisions (not even our OWN bad decisions) away from being hungry and homeless ourselves.

  • Judy

    December 16th, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    Your response is eloquent. Especially about addressing the mental illness. God bless

  • Virginia

    December 9th, 2013 at 4:43 AM

    You can also give your time. Many places appreciate your hours and your presence just as much as they do the money.
    This is a thought for those of us who are already worried about spending too much.

  • Deborah Tate

    December 10th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    In my family we always help serve meals on holidays to those less fortunate than we are. We don’t do it because of what we get out of it but we do it because it feels like it’s the right thing to do. And this doesn’t have to be just at the holidays- there are so many opportunities all throughout the year to get involved in charitable giving, and I think that it is importance to stress how much this is needed at all times of the year.

  • Cason

    December 12th, 2013 at 3:45 AM

    Well said Heather!
    I don’t think that most people are uncaring, but there is a lack of understanding that simply stems from never having walked in those shoes.
    I used to think the same thing, get a job, get off my paycheck.
    But then this reality struck me that these are people who are already pretty down on their luck, why am I going to add to that with my own negativity? Why not be a positive influence and helper in their lives instead of just more of the same negativity that they are already having to deal with?
    Am I going to choose to help become a part of the solution or remain a part of the bigger problem?

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