Pay it Forward
A Guide to Giving Back to Your Community.
2020 was taxing on us all. Social and economic repercussions were felt that go far beyond the mental and physical effects of the last year. During times of hardship, it is vital that we embrace the communities in which we live, finding ways to show gratitude and to uplift others. It’s time to start thinking of your communities as more than just the places that you live, and as something to invest in.
Giving back is one powerful way to do so. Our actions, both small and large, can have a real impact on our communities during times of strain. Embracing philanthropy on any level helps the overall well-being of our neighbors, while alleviating the roots of social problems at the community-level.
Whether you’re donating your time and money, supporting local business, or spending more time in your communities, here are some everyday actions that will continue to give back long into the future.
Support local organizations:
The next time you’re looking for a cause to support, look into what your local organizers and nonprofits are working on. Check to see if their work aligns with your values, and whether they are providing services to your community. Supporting them doesn’t have to be strictly monetary, either; your time is just as valuable. Look into opportunities to volunteer, and if spots are limited (particularly for health-related reasons), use your voice to amplify the organization’s cause, or organizer’s voice, on social media.
We all have neighborhood spots that add true character to our community. Supporting local businesses helps to ensure that these neighborhood institutions will make it through this time of economic hardship, and that they can continue to serve the community. This might mean foregoing the convenience of online shopping to take a trip to your local shop for necessities once a week, ordering takeout from your local family-owned businesses, or buying a gift card to use at a later date.
Remember that these are the businesses that bring character to your neighborhood, giving it the roots it will need to thrive for years to come. When you shop from small, local businesses, your actions will have a positive effect on generations to come as your community evolves throughout the years.
Start a community fridge:
There are also ways to give back in ways that care for your community directly. Because the pandemic has left people vulnerable to food insecurity, some communities have come together to create communal fridges that provide food to those in need. These may offer fresh produce and canned goods, but can even include toiletries and hygiene products.
To do something similar in your community, rally your neighbors to help diminish the impact of the pandemic. This is especially impactful in those locations that have been disproportionately affected by food insecurity throughout the country. Connect with your local organizers to work out the logistics of where to set it up, how to organize a cleaning schedule, and to keep it stocked. Note that when stocking the fridge, it is important to label all items with their expiration dates.
Engage your community to pitch in, whether it’s by donating food of their own, supplying money to purchase fresh groceries and produce with. You can even connect with local restaurants to donate their leftovers at night. Aside from food, there are also plenty of other ways to donate that can be helpful to the less fortunate — particularly in the chilly, Winter months.
Set up a small library:
A Little Free Library might seem like a small addition to your community, but it can provide hours of relief and entertainment. It is an easy way to share and swap books at no cost, and helps to encourage a literacy-friendly neighborhood. Beyond inspiring readers in the community, having free and easy access to literature helps expand book access to all, especially now that time spent in public spaces like bookstores and libraries has been restricted.
Find a community garden:
Have a green thumb you’ve been looking to put to good use? Check out your area for a community garden — or be the first to start one! Community gardens can become the foundation for creating connections between members. Plus, they have positive environmental effects. Some studies have suggested that community gardens can provide improved access to food, nutrition, physical activity, and mental health in communities, even reducing stress. They also help promote social health and cohesion within the community.
Get educated and involved:
Each community faces unique problems. If you don’t know who your community leaders are, look up your local representatives. Stay up-to-date with local issues, no matter the size, to make sure that you know what’s affecting your community — and find out who to contact to make your voice heard. Keep abreast of when your local elections take place, and take the time to learn who is on the ballot, as well as their plans to address the issues affecting your community.