'Tis the season of being generous, and so we hop to the High Street and stress over presents or punch in credit card details online, enticed by 'now-or-never' deals. In this pre-Christmas rush it is easy to focus too much on ticking the boxes and lose the bigger picture of gratitude, kindness and the art of giving back.
Yet, goodness isn't something reserved exclusively for Christmas. Here are a few ways to give back in a much more personal, meaningful and not just seasonal way.
My friend Simone has just signed up with the Casserole Club, which links people willing to cook an extra meal portion once in a while with those living locally but unable to cook for themselves. An elderly lady living on her own would surely appreciate some home-cooked shepherd's pie, delivered by a friendly neighbour. So far the project has only been launched in Barnet, Tower Hamlets, Reigate and Banstead but they plan to expand throughout the UK.
My other friend Abby is volunteering as a tutor in English Literature for The Access Project, who help motivated students from disadvantaged backgrounds win places at top universities. The project organises after-school clubs, where students 'earn' a high-flying professional to become their tutor and deliver weekly one-on-one academic tutorials.
Ian McClelland, a personal trainer, who teaches running, kettle bells, pilates and boxing to London-based professionals, has also been coaching homeless people or those battling substance abuse for over 5 years. By getting them hooked onto endorphin high in the fresh air, Ian is giving the likes of residents of King George's Hostel in London a chance to get their lives back on track.
Frances Hunter, Gracia Lafuente, Julie Ritter and Amanda Romain set up their own charity, Floral Angels, using flowers, left over from weddings and other events, and re-modelling them into 'bouquets of kindness', which are then delivered to people in hospices and hospitals in London. A similar operation, Random Acts of Flowers, exists in Knoxville, USA.
Another London gem is The Living Furniture Project, based in Brick Lane. Founded by Alastair Sloan, the project employed and trained homeless Londoners to make beautiful bespoke furniture, recycling discarded or donated pieces. Alastair partnered up with designers, who taught homeless apprentices, and Clerkenwell Design Week, which exhibited the project's collection and helped four ex-homeless trainees find employment. The project is taking a break now, re-launching in 2014.
There are, of course, many other creative ways to give back. If you'd like to share a project you are involved in or came across, please post a comment below.