Make It a Season of Giving

By Marilou Halvorsen

In the blink of an eye, it’s November! Thanksgiving is near and for many of us, this time of year signifies the beginning of the holiday season—full of family gatherings, festive decorations, age-old traditions, and of course, feasts with all our favorite foods.

With that realization, did you smile and reminisce about the happy times you’ve shared with friends and relatives, or did you grimace at the thought of complicated travel and seemingly endless shopping lists?

If you’re anything like me, it’s more likely to be both. I wince over the time and work required to make this a wonderful holiday, but I cherish the time I get to spend with family and friends.

It’s easy to become consumed by the joy-killing checklists and budgets when the pressure starts to set in. As we try to juggle it all, we often lose perspective and forget what the holiday season represents. Thanksgiving is the beginning of the “giving” season when we give of ourselves not for personal gain, but for the sake of seeing smiles stretched across the faces of those nearest to our hearts. But it doesn’t need to break the bank!

This year, think outside the giftbox and consider giving joy in a form other than material possessions, gift cards, and envelopes full of cash. These meaningful gifts will not only make you feel good, but will have lasting ramifications for the recipients.

Traditionally we ask our closest family and friends over to join in our festivities and feasts. This year, I encourage you to go one step further and invite the neighbor you know is going through a divorce and may be spending his or her first holiday without once-comforting traditions… the coworker who can’t afford to fly home and is struggling with homesickness. Unfortunately I know how difficult this time of year can be, given that it will be my first holiday without my father-in-law and brother-in-law. We lost both just in the past few months.

The joy you feel from this act of kindness may leave you wanting more. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time to start a new tradition. Often it is said that there are three ways to give: time, money, and material donations.

The first is often daunting in our busy lives—there never seems to be enough time for the things on our “list,” let alone anything extra. But giving of our time doesn’t have to entail a day-long ordeal like manning a soup kitchen or passing out gifts at a hospital. While these are lovely ideas, donating time could be as simple calling your aunt you haven’t chatted with in years or a long-lost college friend. It may feel awkward calling them out of the blue—call them anyway. Ask how they’ve been. Wish them a happy holiday. Remind them of your favorite memory that you shared together. Don’t text them. Forget about sending an email. Pick up the phone and call them. You might be amazed at their response when they hear your voice.

Donating an item doesn’t have to be your favorite coat or a bag full of non-perishables. How about donating blood? My father-in-law used to give blood every year. In fact, our family estimates that he gave 186 times in his lifetime. Amazing, isn’t it? Think of all the lives he saved. Think of the lives that you could save, too.

So many natural disasters have plagued our world this year. There are hundreds of families still displaced by Hurricanes Jose, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. A monetary donation of any size can go a long way in spreading a little holiday spirit and helping these families begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. It can be hard to track down legitimate donation collections—here are three that we stand by in New Jersey: The American Red Cross, Water Mission, and Heart to Heart International.

At the NJRHA, we’re starting a new tradition this year, too. We’ve named it “Donate & Dine.” We’ve asked our neighboring businesses to bring nonperishable items to our office on State Street, with the promise that we’ll do the heavy lifting needed to transport them to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. In the interest of generating a little competitive spirit, the business that collects the most items will enjoy their very own festive feast prepared and served by our team at the Hospitality House.

We hope that as the food industry leader we can lead by example with these fun new ways to give back this season. We’ve named a few, but we’d love to hear from you—how do you plan on giving back this year?

From all of us here at the NJRHA, Happy ThanksGIVING.