Smile Politely

Eight ways to be a better community member this holiday season

The holiday season is officially upon us, and that has many of us thinking about how we can be better people, how to make amends for our sins of the last year, and/or how to obtain tax write offs. There’s no shame in selfishness being a motivator to do good and help others — frankly, sometimes it is just about whatever works. 

If there is anything we can take away from this collective experience of a global pandemic, it is that life is fragile and hard for many people, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Those of us with some means can find ways to try to make our neighborhoods and communities better for everyone in them.

We’ve put together a list of eight ways you can help build the future you’d like to see. They vary from donations of time to donations of money and goods. 

This is not an exhaustive list; please feel free to revisit our Ask Politely article from around this time last year outlining several other ways to give back. 

Donate blood

There’s a national blood and platelet shortage right now. There’s been an ongoing shortage since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it doesn’t need to be that way. All sorts of people need blood transfusions. For life to be lost because there wasn’t any blood available when we are all walking around with some to spare? Seems needlessly cruel. 

You are probably able to donate blood, and if you can, please do. The Red Cross’ blood bank is so low it is giving away a trip to Hawaii and $10 Amazon gift cards

You can sign up to donate locally at ImpactLife; appointments are required. 

Shovel your walk / Clean the storm drains

We don’t want to think about snow and ice yet, either, but Winter is Coming™ and if you have a sidewalk, you need to shovel and sand or salt it. If you don’t have a sidewalk and want to shovel snow for those who are unable, you can sign up for the Snow Angel Sidewalk Snow Removal Program here

In the meantime, do your best to check up on the storm drains on your street. If you have a rake and the physical ability, keep them clear of debris. Flooding from heavy rain is a major problem, and keeping the drains clear helps mitigate street flooding and property damage. 

Get yourself and your kids vaccinated 

The vaccines are safe. They are effective

Help feed people in the community

There are many ways to do this; we outlined several of them last year. This year, consider donating $25 (or more) to the McKinley Church & Foundation’s Thanksgiving basket partnership with Garden Hills elementary school. The school will provide Thanksgiving packages to food insecure families in C-U. Per the website, “$25 will provide a turkey and $55 will provide an entire basket for one family.”

Daily Bread Soup Kitchen is entirely volunteer-run, and feeds people in C-U every single day. Visit the website to make a financial donation, or to find out how to volunteer. 

Jubilee Cafe has been feeding more people since the start of the pandemic; you can learn more about donation and volunteer opportunities on its Facebook page and website

Donate gently used or new warm clothes

Unit 4’s Warm-A-Kid program is seeking new outdoor winter clothing for kiddos in need. You can donate through November 15th at the University of Illinois Community Credit Union branches. Donations are also accepted at Unit 4’s Center for Family and Community Engagement (703 S New St, Champaign). 

Cunningham Township, in partnership with Urbana Free Library, Channing-Murray Foundation, and Common Ground Food Co-op is hosting their annual Enoch Miller Sr. warm winter gear donation drive. They are looking for gently used (or new) coats, jackets, hats, mittens, and gloves, as well as new socks to help the people they serve everyday stay warm this winter. Donations will be accepted at each of the locations listed above, as well as the New American Welcome Center.

Mentor kids

Speaking of kids, why not consider being a mentor? C-U 1-to-1 connects one mentor with a student in 3rd through 7th grade. It’s only an hour a week, and takes place in the student’s school, so you don’t need to stress about hosting a child at your home or finding a suitable place to meet. You just need a willingness to show up for a kid who might need a reliable adult presence in their life. 

Support businesses and nonprofits owned and run by Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ people, and women

An excellent resource for locally owned Black businesses is Buy Black Chambana. We’ve covered nearly all of the Black owned restaurants (a quick recap of 2021 Black Restaurant Week is available here, if you need inspiration). 

Planned Parenthood is an excellent choice for supporting women’s health and wellness. As the only abortion provider in Champaign-Urbana, it’s critical that the Planned Parenthood of East Center Illinois remains an option for women in the area. 

The UP Center is doing good work to support the LGBTQ+ community in our area. Queer kids in our K-12 schools especially need support and resources, and the UP Center offers a wide variety of programming for kids and their families. 

Contact your elected officials about what is important to you and your community 

One of the easiest, low-conflict ways you can advocate for yourself and your community is by contacting your elected representatives. Not pleased about the lack of support for the arts in Downtown Champaign? Contact your council person. Don’t want your Black and Brown and poor neighbors to be surveilled? Tell your mayor, council person and the local police. Displeased by Representative Davis’ stance on healthcare and white supremacy? Send him an email. 

No, sending a letter won’t make big, immediate changes, but it does matter when (some) elected officials are considering re-election, and those who care about the people they represent want to know these things. Change is slow, but we must be persistent.

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top image from Cunningham Township Supervisor’s Office Facebook page.

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