Holiday Giving Activity Ideas

The holiday season is in full swing. For Recreation Therapists and other Activity Professionals, we are probably up to our necks in planning holiday parties, events, and other activities. During this busy time, we need to be mindful of one of the most important reasons for the season–giving.

As caregivers, we often become so focused on what we can do for our participants, that we forget giving could be just as important to them. In a recent article, we talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Flow Theory. If you remember Maslow’s pyramid, the middle section is devoted to the psychological needs of belonging and esteem. Giving provides an excellent opportunity for our participants to boost self-esteem and feel belonging as they help others. By planning holiday giving activities, we empower our participants to embrace the spirit of giving during the holiday season.

Benefits of Giving

Did your grade school have a Santa’s Secret Workshop where your parents gave you a few dollars to pick out presents from the family? Remember how it felt picking out the gifts for those most important to you? As Recreation Therapists, you could use holiday giving activities to give that same feeling to your participants.

It’s not just that warm feeling. Giving can help boost mental and physical health. Studies find giving can:

  • Increase self-esteem
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress
  • Ease depression
  • Contribute to a longer life
  • Increase happiness

How to Give

As Recreation Therapists and Activity Professionals, we work with diverse populations. Each group has unique needs and abilities. We need to find appropriate holiday giving activities based on our participants’ specific skill sets. Before you launch into a giving frenzy, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my participants’ strengths?
  • Do they have specific ideas or concepts of giving?
  • What would they be most interested in doing?
  • Is the activity age/disability appropriate?
  • What is your organization’s policies about giving?

After answering these questions, you may have a better idea about how to incorporate giving into your activity programming.

person giving

Holiday Giving Activities

Of course there is no one-size-fits-all giving activity. Here are a few ideas appropriate for several populations.

Letters to Soldiers

If your participants love to write letters or communicate with others, consider writing a batch of letters to soldiers serving the country or wounded in combat. This simple act could brighten the day of military personnel away from their families for the holidays. There are a few different resources for those interested in writing to those in the military. Here are a couple:

A Million Thanks

Operation We Are Here

Holiday Card Exchanges

In addition to writing letters to soldiers, why not connect with a similar facility to exchange holiday cards? Not only will your participants have an opportunity to give, they will also receive cards from peers. It’s a great networking opportunity that could result in a pen pal group.

Turn Craft Projects into Giving Opportunities

If your participants love making crafts, use that interest to inspire giving. It’s great when participants create something to give to their families and loved ones. Can it go a step further? Depending on your participants’ skills, can they also make something to benefit others in the community? Blankets for the homeless, ornaments for shut-ins, or stuffed animals for kids with life-threatening illnesses are just a few possibilities.

Volunteer Locally

Is there a local organization your participants could help out? For example, food pantries often get swamped with donations during the holiday season. For those donations to get to those needing it most, volunteers have to sort, stock, and help distribute the items. The adolescents I work with regularly help out at a food pantry unloading trucks and transporting heavier items from the warehouse to the shopping area. During that same time, a few students with autism from a local school help stock shelves.

Organizations have a variety of needs that may suit your participants’ skills. By getting in touch with a volunteer coordinator, you might be able to find the perfect task to empower your participants to give back.

Collect Pull Tabs for the Ronald McDonald House

Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the country help families of children struggling with illnesses by providing temporary housing and other services. One way they raise money is recycling soda can pull tabs. Are your participants offered soda during the many holiday events? How about teaching them a simple lesson in giving back and helping the environment? Visit the Ronald McDonald House website for more information.

Find Creative Ways to Incorporate Recreation and Fundraising

Can you use your recreation programming to raise funds for a good cause? Let’s take Bingo for example. During the holiday season, how about encouraging your participants to give half their winnings (if it is cash) to a special charity. Or maybe they could pick canned goods as a prize to give to a local food bank.

How about a charity chili cook off or bake off?  Have your participants team up with willing staff to make unique chili/cookie recipes. Then have those wanting to try the food pay a small fee to taste and vote. All the proceeds could go to the winner’s favorite charity.

Of course, you have to check with your organization’s policies for these types of holiday giving activities.

Don’t Forget the Animals

Do your participants have a passion for animals? Let one of your holiday giving activities help the animals. Check with your local animal shelter to see their needs for the holiday season. The World Wildlife Foundation also has several ways to help animals through donations, signing petitions, or contacting local officials.

How about using your participants’ craft skills to make bird feeders? In the Northern picture of a snowman bird feeder climates, winter is a tough time for hungry. This website has several great bird feeder ideas. One of my favorites on this page is making a snowman then putting a pile of bird seed on it. If your participants live in a residential facility, imagine their excitement of seeing their snowman feed the birds on a snowy winter morning.


Make Giving a Habit

Sure, the holidays are a great time for giving. There is also the rest of the year to consider. See if you could incorporate at least one giving activity in your monthly programming. This will help your participants reach out to others and feel more connected to society. Everybody wants to feel needed. Recreation Therapists have the opportunity to make that happen.


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