Without spending a dime, he was able to assemble a modest but thoughtful package. It included current books and magazines we'd finished reading; unopened packs of paper we'd stored away with school supplies; boxes of individual hot cereal packets I'd stocked up on for $1 per box; and a pile of candy my children had collected trick-or-treating (nothing that would melt).
The project opened our eyes to other items around the house that would make for another decent package. In my older boys' room are travel-size board games and hand-held games - in perfect working order - that they no longer use; playing cards; and hand-and-foot warmers. In the pantry are packets of trail mix, beef jerky, nuts and other snacks. And in the bathroom are deodorants, toothpaste, toothbrushes, lip balms and other personal care products we haven't opened.
As the holiday season approaches, I was reminded that care and creativity can sometimes be as valuable as cash. When you have a heart to give, money becomes secondary. There is a range of opportunities to reach out to people near and far without spending a lot. Here are a couple ideas.
o Samaritan's Purse provides aid globally to victims of war, poverty, natural disaster, disease and famine. Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan's Purse collects and distributes shoeboxes full of small gifts, such as toys, hygiene items, school supplies and edible treats. It doesn't cost much to fill a small box with some meaningful items. Just $7 covers shipping and project costs. Go to www.samaritanspurse.org.
o Closer to home, Children in Need is hosting its third annual clothing drive. The organization's goal is to provide adequate clothing, personal care items and school supplies for Washington County children to participate in school. Many of my children have at least a couple articles of clothing they don't wear, and they'll likely get a couple new things at Christmas time. Why not benefit someone else as you make room in the closet?
o Maybe you prefer to give on a more personal level. If money is tight for someone you know, pick up meat when it's buy-one-get-one-free time. Double up your recipe when you cook a meal, and give half to a neighbor. We all know someone who could use a kind gesture.
o Many nonprofit agencies are looking for people to volunteer their time. Call a group that interests you, or look it up online, and see how you can be of service.
"Means" means much more than just money. Think about what you have to offer.
Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail.