Students on a budget can give back

By J_Howard

Holiday advertising has taken control of television sets, Black Friday invited shoppers to fight for the best deals and we are all in search of presents for the special people in our lives.

The holidays have always been a special time of year for me. Family comes together, college classes are on pause for a few weeks and there is nothing better than coming downstairs to see our beautiful Christmas tree with presents stacked neatly underneath and wrapped in silver paper that sparkles in the glow of the multicolored lights.

As much joy as this brings me, it is sad to know there are so many children in the world less fortunate than I have been. Even as broke college students during this holiday season, no matter what your religious beliefs, you can still provide a moment of joy for a handful of children and adults.

The National Center for Children in Poverty published a study in October showing about 10.3 million children between the ages of 6 and 11 in the U.S. live in low-income families. In Illinois, 17,133 people are homeless, according to the Chicago Coalition for Homelessness.

Locally, it is possible to solve problems immediately. Throughout the summer, I had the opportunity to work in New Orleans serving food and water to homeless people. Weeks in, the people I met were no longer just the people I was serving—they became my friends. Things we had in common began to outweigh the things we did not. As much as my new friends came in hungry for food, they also came in looking for someone to talk to.

Give it a shot, stop to talk with the man who typically asks for money on the commute to school or work. Even a short statement, like “Happy Holidays,” may make all the difference in that person’s life.

This problem does not stop at the local level. Worldwide, in 2005, there were 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day, according to a January report by The World Bank. There are many resources out there, but these are some simple things I have found fun and easy to participate in on a budget:

Operation Christmas Child is an organization that ships Christmas presents throughout the world to children who would normally not get anything. This small gesture will not solve any world problems like hunger or disease, but it will bring some hope and joy into a child’s life.

For students, this is as cheap as its gets. A shoebox and about $5 to pick up some small toys are all that’s needed. Arrange the gifts and fit them into the shoebox. Print off a tag from the organization’s website and bring the box to a drop-off location. From there, the shoebox is wrapped and is given to a child on Christmas day. Consider giving up a cup of coffee or a dinner outing and go a little crazy at a dollar store.

Food is needed worldwide, but you don’t have to travel across the world to provide it. According to the World Hunger Education Service, 10.9 million children die from malnutrition every year. Feed My Starving Children has Illinois locations in Aurora, and Schaumburg where you can pack meals for kids throughout the world in two volunteer hours.

Packing involves scooping rice, chicken flavor, dried veggies, soy and vitamins into a plastic pack, which will provide a nutritious meal for a child. At the same time, you can enjoy conversation and music with friends.

In the end, we will not remember why we needed that coffee on Tuesday morning or what we ate at a restaurant last week when the money has gone to fulfilling a cause. What matters is the relationships built with people and how we begin to make a difference in the world as young adults.

Amazing opportunities have been presented to us to be part of a generation that puts others first. It is not difficult and does not mean giving away your entire paycheck. We have so much, when there are many people who have little. This holiday season, it is time to make a difference in the world around us.