Six Ways to Give Back in Cedar Rapids this Holiday Season

At some point every December, I begin to feel the pull in a million directions. There are so many things to do, presents to buy, cookies to bake, gifts to wrap, cards to address…you get it. Even in this strange, unexpected, weird holiday season that is 2020…there’s still so much to do. And honestly, I love it all. 

But, I’m only human. I feel like I’m constantly debating the “is this really worth it” question. With a toddler and a 9-month-old who isn’t yet sleeping through the night (sigh), I’m already exhausted, and the demands of the holiday season could easily overwhelm me. I have to give up some things, because nobody can do it all.

Amid all the things that I could be doing this holiday season, one thing I am adamant about not giving up is giving back

One of the most memorable things my family started doing when I was a young adult was to deliver free holiday meals to homebound people on Christmas morning. This wasn’t something we did throughout my childhood, but for a few years, my mom, sister, and I would hop in the car, visit the masonic lodge in my hometown, and load up meals for people who weren’t able to make a Christmas meal happen on their own.

Six Ways to Give Back in Cedar Rapids this Holiday Season

It shifted my focus from the excitement of gift-giving and -getting, visiting family, and anticipating our own holiday meal and instead reminded me how truly blessed I was to have all of that. Walking into a home without a real front door on a freezing Christmas morning reminded me that even just my safe home was a blessing many don’t have, even in my small hometown. 

I am no stranger to the need around me.

I grew up serving in church, going on mission trips, helping out at school events, and even lived abroad as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Africa for a few years. And yet, delivering a hot meal on Christmas centered my heart in a way that I desperately needed during the holidays. Because of this, I want to cultivate a tradition of service with my own family.

I choose to be intentional about prioritizing volunteering because I want my kids to know how important it is to be generous with their time, energy, and money. In my life stage (the 2-littles-2-and-under stage), this means my family is donating to one of our favorite non-profits this year instead of volunteering somewhere. But I can’t wait for the day my kids are a little older and “giving back” means we are spending time serving others together.

If you are interested in spending some time volunteering this holiday season, here are 6 places in Cedar Rapids to give back during the holidays.

  1. St. Paul’s United Methodist Church

St Paul’s is offering a Christmas meal box this year instead of their normal in-person dinner. They are in need of volunteers who are willing to deliver meal boxes, and it would be a contactless role. The distribution will happen on Sunday, 12/20 from 12-1 pm. If you would like to volunteer, contact Jonathan at [email protected].

2. Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Center

The Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Center is offering assistance this year for families struggling through the holiday season in the aftermath of the Derecho. Details are still forthcoming, but keep an eye on their Facebook page for more information.

3. Meal on Wheels

The local chapter in Cedar Rapids is having their annual Joy Drive, and assistance with packing gift bags, loading vehicles, and delivering gift bags is needed. They are also accepting donations of money or gifts, which are given to the homebound seniors they serve. Check out their page on the United Way’s website for more information.

4. HACAP

HACAP, the local food bank that provides food to meals sites and food pantries in Linn County, has some in-person volunteer activities. Check out their website to find opportunities to paint indoors, pack food boxes, or help at a mobile pantry. 

5.Donate Blood at a Blood Drive

Red and green are the colors of the season, and red is in great need…red blood cells, that is. It may not seem Christmas-like, but blood donations typically dip during the holiday season. If you have an hour, sign up to donate blood and save up to 3 lives. Learn how and sign up to donate at one of the Mississippi River Valley Blood Centers in town.

6. Give through the United Way

There are also many opportunities to donate presents, gift cards, money, or warm clothes. Check out the United Way of East Central Iowa for more information.

Have fun giving back this holiday season!

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Jen is a mom to two kids, Penelope (19 months) and Jethro (2 months). A graduate of Central College, Jen moved to South Africa with the Peace Corps after college, where she developed school and community gardens. Upon returning to the states, Jen moved back to her hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, where she met her husband Darin. In 2019, their young family moved to Cedar Rapids, where she began work with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach as a Healthy Food Access Specialist. Despite working full time and wrangling two young kiddos, Jen still finds times for her favorite hobbies-cooking, gardening, reading, and napping.