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7 easy ways to give back this holiday season

This year, Americans reached out to offer comfort and relief to those in need after devastating storms and deadly fires. But the holidays remind us that it need not be a moment of exceptional catastrophe to offer others a little help. No matter where you live, here are some simple, free or low-cost ways to contribute to charitable efforts in your community and bring a little cheer.

1. Use your phone

Technology has made giving as easy as a text message. Services like Mobile Giving help connect donors with charities. You can use websites such as Charity Navigator, GiveWell and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance to learn about reputable groups to give.

2. Visit an elderly neighbor

The holidays can be a lonely time of year, especially for the elderly. In the U.S., about half of those 85 and older live alone. Researchers have associated loneliness with illness, and an increased risk for early mortality. If you have a neighbor who does not have family nearby, offer to come over with a snack for a chat.

3. Make a no-sew blanket

Take two fleece blankets with different patterns, and line them up on top of each other. Cut fringe on all four sides of both blankets (about 5 inches from the edge). Tie each fringe strip from both blankets together, so you end up with a double-ply blanket for extra warmth. Your local homeless shelter, church or women’s center can surely find a grateful recipient.

4. Pet some animals at your local shelter

Petting the animals helps get them acclimated to human interaction and makes them more adoptable. It’s also a great way for your children to get to know animals, even in non-pet homes. (And if you have any fleece blankets left over after idea No. 3, you could always donate them to the cats.)

Photo by Shannon Gorman/EyeEm via Getty Images

Photo by Shannon Gorman/EyeEm via Getty Images

5. Clean out your closets

Get rid of coats, hats and gloves that you no longer use but are still in good shape. Churches and food banks, along with Goodwill and the Salvation Army, often collect these items for those in need.

6. Go back to school

See if the teachers at your local schools could use some supplies, like pencils, glue sticks and books. About 94 percent of public school teachers spend their own money to pay for classroom supplies, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. If you call first, you can learn specifically what they need. Some charitable-giving platforms, like DonorsChoose.org specialize in connecting donors with specific teachers who are raising money for essentials or a special project.

7. Donate a pint of blood

Look out for blood drive posters or find your local donation center. Your blood could help those undergoing surgeries or cancer treatment, or save someone in a car accident. Giving blood usually only takes about an hour, and afterward you might get cookies and orange juice as a sweet treat.

Do you have an easy suggestion to add to this list? Leave your ideas in the comments.