In the United States, the holiday season is fairly synonymous with consumerism, consumption, and materialism. In fact, in 2021, total holiday retail sales were projected to reach $850 billion. This culture didn’t spring out of thin air – through intentional and influential holiday marketing techniques, we’re seeing (and buying) a lot of stuff we probably didn’t know we needed.
While we’re never going to tell you not to buy your family member that new pair of sneakers (even though they’re already a Sneaker Head) or tell you not to revamp your flatscreen TV because of the special deal at Best Buy (even though it’s likely only two inches bigger than the one you already have), we will tell you that buying for the sake of buying is kind of Finch’s antithesis.
Our biggest gripe with consumerism, though, is that it can never be satisfied. This is true of giving, too – as givers, we may feel a temporary sense of satisfaction. In the culture of ‘more, more, more’, however, we have to continue to give in order to keep up that pleasant sensation we’re all so familiar with. While consumerism during the holidays isn’t likely going anywhere anytime soon, the good news is that we can use that drive for the advantage of people and the planet – step one: showing up in our local communities and giving the gift of time.
If you’re interested in challenging pervasive materialism (or just want to double down on the giving high), we’ve put together the wishlist for you.
OUR TOP TIPS FOR GIVING LOCAL
- Donate clothes based on need
- Join or create a giving circle
- Participate in a city-wide cleanup
- Start or support a community fridge
Don’t fret, we’ve already collected some resources to help you find local organizations to support. But, first…
WHAT TO DO BEFORE DIVING IN HEADFIRST
Step A: Identify your values
If you’re interested in donating your time, you’re probably already committed to environmental justice and community well-being. But, what about beyond that? Ask yourself what matters most to you and why? This will help you show up authentically in your community
Step B: Identify your bandwidth
There’s nothing worse than wanting to do more than we’re capable of and then feeling stretched thin. The holiday season (and life in general) is often full of activities, deadlines, and social obligations, so make sure that you’re not overcommitting and leaving yourself drained.
Step C: Identify your calling
We all have things that get us riled up and out of bed in the morning, and they’re different person to person. Figuring out what your motivator is can help you better direct your efforts. Remember, it doesn’t just have to be one thing! From addressing food security to helping unhoused neighbors, to showing up for a local politician, to doing a beach clean up, all of these activities can help create happier and healthier communities.
- Donate clothes
Donating clothes is a fickle beast. We may have stores of clothing hanging out in our closets, but it takes a lot of time to properly sort and then donate to Plato’s Closet, Buffalo Exchange, Goodwill, Unique, or whatever local philanthropic or for-profit company will take them. There are typically three options for what will happen with your gently-worn items: roughly 20% will be (1) resold or (2) sent abroad, and the remaining clothing will likely (3) end up in a landfill.
This isn’t the first time we’ve
talked about donating clothing, but it bears repeating. While the best thing you can do is to not buy more clothing in the first place, this isn’t really an option for many of us. So, if you do own items you don’t want to hold onto, you can thrift-flip it, aka upcycle old pieces to make something new, or you can look into what types of items are needed at specific local organizations. Are they in need of jackets or children’s long sleeves? By identifying the exact need, you can make sure that your clothing stays in use and out of the landfill.
2. Join a giving circle
First…what exactly are giving circles? Giving circles are a form of mutual aid where individuals come together to pool money and other resources, and collaboratively decide where to redistribute their funds.
In true Finch fashion, we believe that individual action is powerful, especially when we magnify it by working together. Fun fact: Early giving circles were created by women and focused on redistributing capital specifically to women’s issues.
Giving circles are often localized and create the opportunity for participants to meaningfully connect to areas of need in their communities where they may live or work. According to the Collective Giving Research Group, in 2016, there were 1,087 identified giving circles – and that number is growing!
While it’s harder to track down more recent reports, research from 2007 estimated that over $68 million has been moved by giving circles since their conception. Giving circles are a high-impact option – both in community impact and in creating community roots – because they’re local and there is little-to-no overhead. Time to call up some pals for a giving circle.
3. Participate in a citywide cleanup
Want to get involved in community beautification efforts and spend some solid time outside? There are numerous cleanup groups available nationwide to help connect community members with organized events tackling different types of environmental degradation, including in areas where people have littered Superfund sites. The EPA’s Cleanups in My Community (CIMC) tool maps hazardous waste cleanup locations in an easy-to-use list to get you started.
Since the holiday season is really all about sharing gratitude for our loved ones, show your friends and family you care about them by inviting them to a super cool Superfund site. If they say ‘nah’, it’s also a great opportunity to collaborate with like-minded community members and meet other people that are passionate about mitigating the risks that waste poses to human health and the environment – and get out of that relative-packed house of nay-sayers.
4. Support a community fridge
Food insecurity is a serious and growing issue in the United States – Feeding America estimated that the number of food-insecure Americans almost doubled to 50 million people in 2020. Food is an important part of many of our holiday traditions and community fridges are working to make this a possibility for everyone.
Community fridges are public refrigerators that neighbors stock for neighbors, building strong communities and creating food security. The benefit of community fridges is that there’s no red tape limiting access. This means that folks who may be excluded from government assistance programs (like undocumented people) or those that live too far from food banks can have access to fresh food, too.
If you decided that your attempt at that baba ganoush recipe just isn’t right for you and your family or are curious to try out new recipes without willing participants, then community fridges might be a great option. By contributing to a community fridge, you’re minimizing your food waste and ensuring your neighbors are kept fed.
WHAT DOES GIVING LOCAL HAVE TO DO WITH MUTUAL AID?
For the purpose of this blog, we framed engagement through the lens of mutual aid.
Mutual aid is “cooperation for the sake of the common good” and functions outside of traditional capitalist frameworks. Instead, it relies on coming together to meet everyone’s needs. Mutual aid understands progress as inclusive and interdependent – and that direct, local impact can be the most powerful.
Mutual aid has a long history, tracing back to Black organizers and their communities in the 1700s, where people came together to create alternative systems for social services. Mutual aid has taken different forms throughout the centuries and was piloted by activists like Slyvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and the Black Panthers as financial relief, housing, educational and social programming, clothing giveaways, and free food when the government hasn’t provided sufficient support.
Today, some mutual aid organizations are showing up to address symptoms of the climate crisis. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Big Freeze, and Hurricane Katrina, community members distributed people and resources to historically marginalized communities reeling from disaster and systemic inequities.
Using mutual aid networks, we can work towards achieving environmental justice to create the proliferation of equity in our communities and beyond! Sounds like the perfect way to stay in the holiday spirit when that gifting buzz wears off?
WAIT, IF THIS IS ABOUT MUTUAL AID, THEN WHY IS VOLUNTEERING IMPORTANT?
While mutual aid has a very cool, revolutionary history of supporting communities for centuries, volunteering has benefits for volunteers, too. Volunteering can affirm social identities, build self-esteem and confidence, and teach new skills. If you decide to show up through a local organization, then you are likely to meet new people and dig deeper roots where you live – all in the holiday spirit.
HERE ARE SOME MUTUAL AID RESOURCES:
Mutual aid hub – Find mutual aid organizations near you.
Mutual Aid Toolkit – Get the inside scoop on mutual aid organizing during the time of COVID-19.
Giving Compass’ Giving Circle Directory – Find a giving circle aligned with your interests.
Ten Basic Steps to Starting a Giving Circle – Learn how to start a giving circle.
Freedge – Check out this network of community fridges across the globe, in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Minneapolis, Slovakia, and more.