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Holiday Volunteer Opportunities: 10 Ways to Give Back This Holiday Season

My sister called me a few weeks ago to tell me that I didn't need to buy her a present for Christmas, she was adopting a family instead. My sister is not uncharitable, unless the discussion turns to the way I apply make-up (as if I don't have opposable thumbs) or the friends I have (self-righteous Liberals), but I was still surprised. Last year, she bombarded me with text messages, phone calls, e-mails, and Facebook posts until I caved and bought her a Leopard Love Complexion Perfection make-up kit. 

Even though my sister is fully committed to this family, not much has changed from last year. She still blows up my phone for gift requests, but now it's to pressure me into buying video games for the family instead of new mascara for her. She dragged me out on Black Friday to pick up a cheap vacuum cleaner, winter coat, kitchen items, and socks.

I'm proud of her. She found a way to channel her passion for shopping into an awesome situation for someone else. In the spirit of sibling rivalry, I came up with 10 ways to give back this holiday season.

1. Invite someone to spend the holidays with you.

The holidays can be lonely for people without families or significant others, or those who experienced a recent loss. Share your holiday with someone else. 

2. Volunteer ... in January.

Many food banks and other service organizations are bombarded with requests to volunteer during the holidays, but people need help year-round. Make a New Year's resolution to consistently volunteer. 

3. Drink.

Charity Beer Pong events are popping up all over the country. Sinking a ping pong ball into a cup of bad beer has never been so selfless.

4. Make Christmas granola bars.

Despite my affection for everything with sugar in it, nobody really needs more Christmas cookies. Maintain the family tradition of baking during the holidays but switch to granola bars. Then, donate them to a local food bank.

5. Buy gifts from businesses with a social mission.

You can still give gifts, but spend your dollars on something that gives back. For example, The 826 program, an after-school creative writing program, sells the work of its young authors at the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. The proceeds go back to the program.

6. Adopt a family.

This may not be innovative, but it is effective. Adopt a family for Christmas through the Salvation Army. You'll get to play Santa for a season.

7. Buy a cow.

Heifer International, a long-standing international charity, allows you to give the gift of economic self-sufficiency. Heifer International donates cows or other livestock to help individuals start businesses. 

8. Don't be insufferable.

Sometimes the best gift you can give is checking yourself. The holiday season can be stressful but trying to be your best self can make someone else's holiday.

9. Foster a puppy.

Many animal shelters experience chronic overflow and the holiday season is no different. Temporarily fostering a puppy can help make room for more animals as the season gets colder. Plus, puppies are awesome.

10. Run.

I can't walk around on the weekend without bumping into a goofy looking runner wearing a Santa hat. Find a charity 5K in your area. You can get a rockin' body and raise money for a good cause.

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