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17 Simple Ways to Give Back on Giving Tuesday

The excitement of scoring amazing deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday can no doubt be thrilling. But in the aftermath of that excitement comes a time to reconnect with the community with Giving Tuesday.

Held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the concept of setting aside a day that “unleashes the power of radical generosity around the world” started in 2012 and was first tested out at New York City’s 92nd Street Y and its Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact. While some choose to open their checkbooks to give to their favorite organizations, the day is really about inspiring generosity, any way you can.

“Whether it’s making someone smile, helping a neighbor or stranger out, showing up for an issue or people we care about, or giving some of what we have to those who need our help, every act of generosity counts, and everyone has something to give,” the official site describes. Here are 17 simple ways that you can do your part to help pass along that community spirit.

Volunteer To Read to a Child

Woman in front reading to a group of children sitting on the floor.
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Curling up and disappearing into a storybook world is an essential part of growing a child’s imagination — yet so many don’t have that simple gift as a part of their life. Organizations like Read to a Child and Reach Out and Read depend on volunteers to read out loud to children, which has been proven to strengthen their development. And it doesn’t have to be anything formal — you can also just gather the neighborhood kids for an impromptu story time.

Round-Up Toiletries for Your Local Homeless Shelter

Whether it’s the extra supplies stockpiled or that stash of hotel toiletries that have gathered up from years of traveling, the unused items just sitting in your bathroom cabinet can go a lot further for those in need of the basics. Most local shelters will have lists on their social media or websites of the items that they most need, which typically includes toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, and washcloths.

Cardboard box full of clothing with donation written on it.
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Spring cleaning may get all the hype but fall is the best time of year to take inventory of your belongings and pass along what you haven’t been using to those in need. Whether it’s going through your closet and cleaning out those wardrobe items that have been sitting there unworn to take to Goodwill or Salvation Army, giving away those appliances and furniture pieces you’re no longer using to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, or gathering those books you won’t read again for your local library, there are plenty of places that will take gently-used items. Bonus: Most locations will provide a receipt, so that means you’ll be able to add it to your tax write-off.

Serve Meals at a Food Bank

Two things that those less unfortunate need most: proper nourishment and human communication. Check off both of those boxes by reaching out to your city or town’s food bank or community kitchen to inquire about how you can help at their meal services. Some may need sandwiches to be prepared in your home to be delivered there at certain times, while others may need volunteers to help whip up dishes on-site ahead of their mealtimes.

Pay For a Stranger

Person in their car at a drive-thru grabbing coffee and bag from a worker.
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Surprise and delight! There’s no better way to put a smile on someone’s face than by surprising a stranger by covering the cost of their meal or other services. Perhaps it’s simply leaning into the barista and letting them know you’re covering coffee for the person behind you or maybe it’s being even more anonymous by paying for the next car at a drive-through or even paying the toll for a bridge or tunnel. However, wherever, and whenever you decide to do your good deed, you can walk away knowing that you’ve put a new spring in someone else’s step.

Write Thank You Notes to Those Who Least Expect It

The most overlooked people in our lives are often also the ones who do the most to support us, whether it’s our mail carrier, gas station attendant, grocery store cashier, cleaning person, food delivery person, or trash pick-up team. Take a moment to write a thank you note to them and tell them how much what they do makes your life so much easier. A little gratitude can go a long way.

 Young girl in red T-shirt hand taped with patch with red heart after giving blood.
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No doubt one of the best gifts you can give to anyone is donating blood. After all, each time you do can save up to three lives — and that’s the ultimate definition of giving back. And the actual donation only takes about eight to 10 minutes. The American Red Cross can help locate local blood drives, or also look for local organizations, often tied to hospitals that run blood donation centers. For instance, there’s the New York Blood Center in New York City, the University of Chicago Medicine Blood Donation Center in Chicago, and the Stanford Blood Center in the California Bay Area. Vitalant can also help you find locations across the country.

Shop at Local Businesses

Sure, big-box retailers like Amazon have made it easy to shop from the comfort of our couches, but not only is the distance the items travel and the packaging it takes to get them to us an added environmental cost, but it also means we’re ignoring the opportunity to support the local shops and restaurants. So head to the corner bodega for your groceries and pop into the bookshop down the block for a new read — you’ll literally be feeding your dollars back into your community. And double your support by also visiting local small businesses on Small Business Saturday, celebrated two days after Thanksgiving.

Two snow leopards in a snow covered environment.
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Channel your animal instincts! Many organizations offer the chance to adopt or sponsor species in different ways. The Snow Leopard Trust has instant adoptions of cubs and families, while Polar Bear International allows eco-adoptions of twin cubs or mom and cubs. Some programs run symbolic adoptions that come with a stuffed animal of the species, like the Sierra Club or World Wildlife Foundation.

Help Clean Your Local Park

Hands with protective glove picking up plastic bottles in a park.
Credit: Zbynek Pospisil/ iStock

An efficient way to keep our communities beautiful is by taking action ourselves. And the easiest way to start is by grabbing a garbage bag (ideally a recycled one!), pulling on some gloves, and helping by picking up the trash. If you want to add a little exercise to the good deed, try plogging — the new movement of picking up trash while jogging.

Write a Letter to a Soldier

Our soldiers have put everything aside to stand on the frontlines to protect and afford us our freedom. Put that appreciation to paper by writing a letter to a soldier through Operation Gratitude, Soldiers' Angels, or Support Our Troops.

Leave a Generous Tip for a Server

Restaurant check with money on top surrounded by dishes.
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The restaurant business has no doubt been one of the industries most affected by the pandemic, yet even during the height, servers still masked up and brought food to tables just so we could enjoy a nice meal. But more than that, they’ve also become the perfect strangers to chat up during this time when so many of us were apart from our families and friends. Show how much their role means by surprising your server by doubling or tripling your regular tip — maybe even throw in a note of appreciation along with your signature on your receipt.

Use Your Skills to Help Others

We may not realize how essential some of our skills are until they can help organizations and people in need. Volunteer Match can help guide you to opportunities in your community in a wide range of areas, from advocacy and the arts to technology and health. A few recent opportunities include helping foreign students learn English, planting trees, and sorting winter care packages.

Post Hopeful Messages Around the Community

Sign posted on a window reading "Thank you healthcare workers" and a rainbow.
Credit: Maridav/ Shutterstock

One simple idea that comes from the Giving Tuesday community itself can be done with any art supplies around the house and a little creativity. “Display an encouraging message or inspiring doodle in your window,” the site says. “For those with kids at home, make signs together, then go on a walk to find others in your area.” They provide a template online but also encourage signmakers to go with their own designs.

Give an Essential Worker a Surprise Gift Card

Cropped view of girl holding gift card with red bow.
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Once upon a time, we all paused at 7 p.m. and applauded and cheered for the essential workers who stepped onto the frontlines day after day. While that tradition has disappeared, their hard work hasn’t. Stock up on a few gift cards from the drugstore — the denominations don’t have to be huge, they can even just be for a cup of joe or a refreshing smoothie. And then when you come across an essential worker, simply hand it to them and thank them for doing what they do.

Take a Quiz That Donates Food

An online quiz that helps donate food? It almost sounds too good to be true! But the UN World Food Programme has come up with a site called Free Rice, where for every question you answer correctly, a grain of rice gets donated to those in need. To date, more than 210 billion grains have been raised.

Go For a Run or Walk

Woman's legs running over the wild terrain, under the cloudy sky.
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Every step you take could be for a cause. The app Charity Miles lets you pick an organization — such as Autism Speaks, Do Something, Feeding America, Malala Fund, Operation Smile, Special Olympics, She’s the First, and The Nature Conservancy — and log movement for them. Everything from running and walking to dancing and biking counts. The more miles you move, the more your choice charity gets.

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