In the season of gluttony and acquisition of materials goods, there’s plenty of things you can do during the holidays to give back. Here’s a few ideas to get started:

Donate blood:

With the east coast still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, the need for blood and platelet donations is higher than ever. I spoke to a woman from the local blood bank who said that their need picks up the night before Thanksgiving, due to drinking and driving and the increase in road accidents with more people travelling. Donating blood is easy, costs you nothing, and can help save a life. Click here to find out if you qualify for donation and to schedule an appointment.

Volunteer at a local shelter:

Many shelters offer holiday meals for the less fortunate. It’s a great way to give back to your community and a perfectly plausible excuse to get away from a dysfunctional family gathering, should you be so inclined. Although the needs of the local shelters don’t go away after the holidays, this is a great way to get started and find one that works for you. It will create memories and make a difference in someone’s life. A quick google search for your area should yield plenty of places where you can donate.

Canned Food Drives:

With the economy today, people are struggling and food banks are feeling the pinch. Another way to give back is to call your local food bank and find out what items they’re in need of. Head off to the grocery store and pick up the necessary items, or if it’s easier, make a cash donation in order to help defer operating costs. Considering how much money we blow on lattes and other luxury items, a measly $20 donation can make a big difference to those in need.  To get started, a search of charities like Feeding America can help you find the local branches in need.

Adopt a new friend:

The economy has not only hit people hard. Animal shelters are also spread thin with many animals who need a loving forever home. PAWS.org is having a Black Friday adoption event to help find homes for black or mostly black cats and dogs (which for some superstitious reason, struggle the most to find homes). Click here to find out more. If you can’t take on a new furry friend, but still want to help, you can always make a cash donation, or bring by needed supplies, such as food, litter, or other items.

Toys for Tots:

While you’re waiting in line for the latest doorbuster sales, consider picking up a toy for a needy child who may not get anything this holiday season. A mainstay in the holiday season, Toys for Tots delivers toys to needy children. Working with the Marine Corps Reserve, donations are available to children in all 50 states. Click here to find a donation location near you or to make a cash donation.

Send a Care Package to Soldier:

Most of us don’t like to think about it, but there are a lot of soldiers still deployed overseas. This time of year, it’s even more difficult to be separated from their families. That’s why the USO has the Send A Care Package program. Click here to make a $25 donation and send a thank you to a soldier for his or her service.

The gift of personal responsibility:

Using a micro-loan model, small businesses in developing countries get the funding they desperately need in order to lift themselves up. Donations are actually loans, which are paid back slowly over time by the business. You can then reinvest in another business or donate toward operating costs. Click here to learn more.

Give a goat (or pig or cow):

I love the idea of being able to give an individual something that will dramatically improve their life. Using a charity like Oxfam, you can give a goat which can provide milk to a needy person. Or you can donate books to a school.  Even honey bees can be given! Donations begin at $12. Click here to find out more.

I’m sure there’s more amazing charities out there, but this is a small list to get you thinking outside the box. Hopefully there’s something you can do to contribute this holiday season and make a difference.