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How Do You Give Back During the Holidays? 

Real Simple readers share the many ways they spread good cheer.

Plate of Christmas cookies and sheet musich Kate Sears

Making Special Deliveries

My family and I adapted a holiday tradition from the book The Ultimate Gift, by Jim Stovall. At Thanksgiving, we decide on an amount of money to put aside, then we secretly spend it in a random, kindhearted way. Each of us has until Christmas Eve to complete our task, and we reveal it to the rest of the family on Christmas Day. The first year, I returned to the nursing home where my grandfather had spent his last years and gave gifts to a few residents who didn’t have families. The thought of going back there after my grandfather’s death seemed almost impossible, but knowing what it would mean to my mother and grandmother when I told them about it was well worth it.
Andrea Brown
Springdale, Arkansas
My children and their friends enjoy singing carols and serving cookies at an assisted-living facility for the elderly. It’s an experience that leaves everyone feeling good.
Wendy Fortunato
Henderson, Nevada
I help needy animals. Sometimes I collect food, bedding, toys, and treats for my local shelter. And one year I sponsored a doghouse for a neglected dog through PETA’s Angels for Animals program at
Elaine Sloan
New York, New York
I take all my scraps of material and make blankets for Project Linus ( The organization then donates them to seriously ill children in hospitals, social-service agencies, and shelters.
Cathy Martens
Liverpool, New York
My kids and I choose a family in our town that we know is going through a difficult time and become their secret elves for the 12 days before Christmas. Each day, we surreptitiously drop off small decorations and goodies with little cards. By the morning of December 25, their house looks festive, they’ve enjoyed a few treats, and their holiday has hopefully been easier and happier. We have a blast trying to leave the gifts for them without being found out, and we never reveal our identity―even though we are often named as suspects.
Deborah Sorbo
Mountain Lakes, New Jersey
In lieu of bringing presents for one another to the office gift exchange, we each decided to bring a wrapped gift for Toys for Tots instead. There are only 20 or so of us, but the pile of toys we had from our party was huge. We were able to give back and still have fun.
Beth Groner
Clifton, Virginia
My family participates in Operation Christmas Child and fills shoe boxes with gifts to be sent to children in Third World countries through Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization. One year we got to work in the warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ll never forget the entire bustling warehouse standing in silence as we prayed over the millions of boxes.
Beth Mascia
Greensboro, North Carolina
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