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The holidays are a time for giving. A sweater for your sister, some toy dinosaurs for your niece, a watch for your husband. But figuring out how to give back is not always as easy as drafting your holiday shopping list.

So we’ve rounded up 12 ways—from getting your hands dirty to cleaning house—you can help make the season merry and bright for your community.

1. Book ’em

Help keep the books coming by supporting your local library. Many locations accept donations of used books either for their own collections or for their fundraising book sales. If you want to commit a little more time, consider volunteering to deliver books to the housebound; the Newburyport Public Library even has a program teaching volunteers how to mend its collection’s damaged books.

2. Dress up

Rummage through your closet, find that suit you never wear or your daughter’s prom dress from last spring, and put them to a higher use. Send your professional attire to Dress for Success Boston, the local branch of a national organization dedicated to helping women find work by providing appropriate clothing and training. The gowns can go to Anton’s Cleaners’ Belle of the Ball program or the group Northshore Fairy Godmother, which accept donations of gently used prom dresses for girls who might otherwise be priced out of a prom experience.

3. Grow something good

Turn your gardening hobby into something more than growing fresh vegetables for your own kitchen. At Gloucester nonprofit Backyard Growers, volunteers help weed and water school gardens, mentor new growers, and lead garden harvests. Or look into joining a community garden. Many North Shore towns—including Salem, Salisbury, and Lawrence—offer up public plots where residents can grow their own food while helping strengthen the local food movement.

4. Be A Little Brother

Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly began in Boston in 1979. It has been helping our elderly neighbors who are without the benefit of family or adequate social contacts. Volunteers spend time with elders that live in assisted living facilities or living independently. During the holiday season, volunteers deliver nutritious holiday meals and fresh flowers, and provide transportation for those able to attend holiday celebrations.

5. Amazon altruism

Turn your online shopping habit into an act of giving. Go to, choose your favorite charity, and shop. Every time you buy something at the site, a percentage of your purchase will go to your chosen cause.

6. Furnish some help

For the previously homeless, survivors of domestic abuse, refugees, and victims of fires or other disasters, finding a new home is just the first step to getting back to normal. Reading’s Mission of Deeds is dedicated to helping furnish these new homes with beds, kitchen tables, dishes, and other household necessities. Make a donation to help the cause or donate goods directly; a list of needed items is available at

7. Think tropical

You may not be going to the Caribbean anytime soon, but your money can make the trip. Since hurricanes Irma and Maria swept through the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been struggling to restore even basic services. Donate directly and immediately through the City of Peabody’s online bill-pay website, or participate in one of the regular raffles, donation drives, and other fundraising events being organized throughout the region. Check out the North Shore MA for Puerto Rico group on Facebook to learn more.

8. Surprise!

Usually, no one likes surprises involving their bills. Change that. Go to Walmart or Kmart and pay off someone’s layaway balance (or take up a collection and cover several outstanding bills). Pay someone’s outstanding fines at the library or try the pay-it-forward classic: Hit the drive-through and add the order of the person behind you to your own bill.

9. Cancer care for children

Cancer treatments can wear down patients’ bodies and their spirits. Lucy’s Love Bus, an Amesbury-based nonprofit, provides children undergoing treatment with integrative therapies—acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling—to help ease the side effects and mental stress of fighting the disease. Volunteer or donate to help out or, if you are a practitioner of any of these services, contact the group about offering your services.

10. Bake a difference

Get out the butter and flour and sugar and show your appreciation for the first responders and front-line workers who keep your community running. Bake up some snickerdoodles for your local firehouse, muffins for the staff at your aunt’s nursing home, or a batch of double-chocolate brownies for the teachers’ lounge at your neighborhood school. Don’t forget to add a quick note of appreciation for all they do.

11. Refugee relief

With conflicts raging in parts of the world, the needs of refugee families fleeing violence have perhaps never been more acute. To help our refugees and asylum-seekers who have been resettled in the Greater Boston area, donate to or volunteer for the Refugee and Immigrant Assistance Center (based in Boston, with offices in Worcester and Lynn). The Refugee Immigration Ministry works with houses of worship throughout the state to provide assistance; contact the group for information about the participating church or temple nearest you.

12. Get them started young

Start the next generation off early by helping your children find ways to do good. Encourage them to ask for donations instead of gifts for their next birthday, or offer them specific chores they can do to earn money to donate. Help them organize a neighborhood litter cleanup or a fund-raising lemonade stand. For more ideas visit