Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness knows few things brighten a day like a stranger showing they care. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us, bringing with it all the shopping and family get-togethers and work parties. For most, it is a season filled with joy and thanksgiving.

For others, the season isn’t as bright. Whatever the reason, whatever the story, there are so many ways to help. There are many ways to give back locally this holiday season to your neighbor, your family member or your friend.

These are a few of our favorite things:

Count down by giving. Help encourage children count down to Christmas without the calories of a traditional advent calendar by rethinking the concept. Instead of “getting” a sugary treat every day of December, reinvent the wheel by finding a way to give something. It could be something small, such as giving a bigger tip than usual or paying for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, or make it a larger project that spans throughout the month. Adopt a police or fire department by making a care package for first responders, or add an item each day to a gift basket to take to a local food bank such as Food for the Hungry or the Food Pantry of Waukesha County.

Sponsor a family. Consider partnering with a local organization such as the Waukesha County Christmas Clearing Council, which identifies underprivileged, low-income families to sponsor during the holiday season. At a cost of $60 per child, the organization connects volunteers to parents who can share their child’s wish list and coordinate a drop off of the gifts, usually by mid-December. The council also accepts donations at its store, which is opened for families whose children did not get sponsored to “shop” before the holiday. A less-structured approach could be as simple as paying off a stranger’s layaway or hiding notes and a few dollars near gallons of milk or in the fruit at the grocery store.

Think (really) small. Life doesn’t pause amid the chaos of the season. Neighbors, family members and friends are constantly affected by major life events, such as the birth of a new baby. Partnering with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a local hospital such as Waukesha Memorial is a unique way to show kindness to families whose premature babies can’t be home with them at Christmas. Consider having a book or stuffed animal drive so all the children have a little something special for the holiday.

Big or small, you can make an impression on someone’s life this holiday season. And random acts of kindness, like the ones listed here, are some great ideas to get you started.

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