Yet when the last carol is sung, dreidel is spun, and party is done, the presents that just days earlier were the cause for celebration have lost their luster and are relegated to toy chests and closets. The lasting impact of the holidays is felt in the tons of trash dumped into landfills. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, households increase waste production by 25 percent. Altogether that adds an extra one million tons of garbage—food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons—each week.
There are alternatives that really can make a difference—not only toward reducing waste but by supporting organizations that address social and environmental issues from your backyard to oceans away. Consider the old holiday adage: ’Tis better to give than receive. Then give friends and family gifts they’ll never receive. Most charitable and nonprofit organizations accept donations in honor of a friend or relative and some even send personalized greeting cards detailing the contribution. It’s a stocking stuffer that doubles as a tax deduction for you. Face it, you didn’t want to wrap all those presents anyway.
Build a Community
The holidays are not only a time to embrace family but also your entire community. One way to ensure the future of a thriving community is to support the organizations that keep children safe and active, help families find shelter, and lend a hand to the residents in need. In honor of those loved ones who care the most, give to a local organization that makes your hometown a home.
Almost every county has a United Way chapter that caters specifically to the needs of that region, funding programs tailor-made to its community. Staff members and volunteers interview human service professionals from the education, criminal justice, and medical sectors to assess the community’s needs. The United Way of Ulster County, for instance, has identified affordable daycare, low-income housing, and family centered mental health as some of the target areas in the county. Like investing in the mutual fund of charities, donors can be assured that their money is serving the best interests of the community and supporting an array of programs, yielding highest philanthropic dividends. “We try to jump in when there are broad issues,” said Stacey Rein, president of the United Way of Ulster County, on her way to a meeting where she chairs a substance abuse prevention board the county started. “When we had flooding a few years ago we facilitated a task force to respond to that. We try to fill the leadership role when there is a variety of issues at stake and a variety of players because we know the business and human services communities so well.”
Habitat for Humanity aims at giving a hand up not a handout to low-income families through homeownership opportunities. The Capital District affiliate of Habitat for Humanity has built 40 homes in its almost 20 years operating in Albany. The organization has set an ambitious goal of building another 40 homes over the next five years, many in the Southern Saratoga area. “If folks have any concern at all for the plight of the working poor and substandard housing and the opportunity Habitat provides for homeownership, then they should consider Habitat for Humanity,” said Steve Haggerty, executive director of the Capital District Habitat for Humanity. As little as $10 provides some bricks for construction and a Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa card for your recipient. Twenty-five dollars amounts to six bags of cement for a house that will cost $75,000 to build. Haggerty suggests writing checks out to the specific chapter of Habitat in the community you directly want to support.
Protect Local Resources
This holiday reduce the amount of waste consumer products create by pledging not to purchase as many unnecessary presents. Instead support local environmental organizations in the name of the people you would have purchased scarves, ties, and perfume for. There are plenty of land, water, and critter-friendly groups that need extra help to keep New York green even in the winter.
Everyone has at least one neighbor they’d never mention nuclear power to when running late. This holiday season encourage that environmental passion by funding a Riverkeeper project. The organization works to protect the Hudson River, its tributaries, and runs campaigns to protect the New York City watershed and close Indian Point. You can donate to the general operations of Riverkeeper or directly to a campaign your neighbor has built his or her soapbox on. It will mean more than the gloves you would’ve bought—they’d probably get lost at the next protest anyway.