Helping others during the holiday season

by Lynn Tran, Features Reporter, Sarah Feinberg, Features Editor
photo contributed by The Newton Food Pantry

The holiday season tends to bring out the best in people, as loved ones gather together for meals, to give and receive gifts, and spread the holiday spirit. While volunteering may not immediately come to mind during the holidays, giving to those in need is essential to local and global communities.

Year-round, the Newton Food Pantry provides food-insecure individuals and families with necessary supplemental resources, including fresh food, personal care items and cleaning products. As a special holiday tradition, the Food Pantry also gives their clients gift cards to promote dignity and respect, president of the Newton Food Pantry Regina Wu said.

“The grocery gift cards are a way for us to acknowledge that what a plate of food or a meal looks like for one family isn’t the same across every family,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for people to purchase what makes a holiday meal for them based on their family traditions, culture and background.”

Our Lady’s Christian Partisan Church in Newton also steps up during the holidays. Dan Foley, a member of the church, volunteers for the church’s annual holiday drives, which provide holiday meals, holiday gifts and food gift cards to families in need in the Newton area. He said that difficulties caused by financial insecurities can be exacerbated during the holiday season.

“There is a lot of wealth in Newton, but not everybody in Newton is wealthy,” he said. “It can be particularly difficult for people who are struggling either financially or with food insecurity in any community, but in particular when they’re in a community where others have such an abundance. During the holidays, sometimes that difference is felt even more.” 

UNICEF club co-leader and senior Kara Wong said that she hopes by fundraising and advocating for refugees and children in need, she can help give them the chance to experience the holiday joy. 

“It’s important to recognize that not every child gets to receive that luxury [of gifts],” she said. “It’s important to give back so that they can have at least a little experience of that during the season when we get to experience that.”

Junior Soleil McAneny, a volunteer for Community Serves, an organization that makes and delivers meals to people who cannot physically leave their homes to purchase groceries, said that they started giving back after they found their combined passion for cooking and desire to use their privilege for good — regardless of the season.

“I started to realize that not everyone around me had the same access or the privilege to the things I have every day,” they said.  

Kind Club co-leader junior Maya Berdichevsky said that using one’s passions to give back to the community can be influential in making the act of giving a sustainable habit. She said that since Kind Club’s mission is to support and bring joy to local children in need, they are organizing a drive for bracelets to donate to the Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Give back to the community in ways that bring you joy that is unique to you,” she said. “There are so many ways to use your passion and pick a cause you believe in and get involved.”

As the holiday season is known for its festivities and giving gifts to loved ones, UNICEF club co-leader and senior Victoria Rivard said that it can be easy to forget to continue giving back during the non-winter months. She said that it’s important to make an effort to help others during the rest of the year as well. 

“Fighting for humanitarian rights is not just a November to December thing,” she said. “There are people in need in the world at all times. It’s not just a holiday problem,” she said. 

Senior Maggie Jia, who helped coordinate HelpPIN’ club’s Thanksgiving drive for the Allston Food Bank, said giving physical gifts is not the only way to help others.

“Even if you can’t support yourself by material means, being kind mentally to people is definitely really important,” she said.

Rivard said that taking opportunities to help others can ultimately be mutually beneficial for the giver in addition to the receiver.

“It keeps you honest, it keeps you on track and it keeps you working towards becoming a better activist and a more conscientious person by giving back as a lifelong commitment.”

Wu said that there are endless ways to create a lasting impact on the community, and every action counts, whether it is raking a neighbor’s leaves or donating groceries.

“As human beings, we should try to give help where we can. Part of being human is having compassion and [caring] for our community and neighbors,” she said. “I would really love to see us all think about each other every day and try to think about some little act that we can do that makes an impact on someone else, and it doesn’t have to be a big one, but try to aim for that every day. The world would be such a better place.”