The Best Holiday Gift Of All Is Giving Back

Last time I checked, I have every cooking gadget known to man, shelves of cookbooks and travel guides, biographies and DVD’s galore. I don’t need anything except a million dollars–now that would be really cool! But, as the holidays approach and I have taken care of our important family members, my attention turns to others. I focus on these two categories–giving to those who have so much less and thanking those who are selflessly serving our community. I hope this will also inspire others to consider just one or two of these ideas. Together, we can really make a difference in the lives of others.

We attend Mariners Church in Irvine, and they have a great program during the holidays. They put up a field of Christmas trees with little ornaments on them. Each bobble represents a child, teenager, adult or elderly person who they have identified as low-income and in need of some holiday cheer. I wander through the tree-filled park reading many of the requests. My family and I make our selections. We go to the counter and they mark down the catalog number and what we are planning to purchase. Then, we go shopping and bring it back to the church the following week. Some folks just bring a check to the church office and let Santa’s helpers do the shopping. That works too!

And, for those who visit museums and educational centers, you may want to consider sending a donation on behalf of your family or signing up for a membership, as we do. Over the years, we have so enjoyed the programs & lectures brought to us by Bowers Museum, Discovery Center, Dana Point Ocean Institute and Chapman University. Recently, I have become aware of a very special foundation that is saving tortured elephants in Thailand. My friend and beloved local chef Pascal Olhats and his wife volunteered at the Sanctuary and it was quite special. We can adopt elephants and make donations to help them rescue the poor animals and provide much needed medicine and supplies. The founder was here in October to share her story. Donations can be made to (select “Elephant Nature Park”) or

When my son was a young tyke, I used to volunteer at his school for the holiday party in their classroom. I would ask the teacher if she had a little “wish list” of items for the classroom that we could help with. Those purchases were very much appreciated.

A few years ago my Mom passed away on New Year’s Eve. Yeah, that “eve” has never been the same. As I walked the halls of the hospital that evening, I realized all the doctors and nurses had families at home. And, instead of being with them, they were here with us at a time of unplanned need. So, bringing a plate of healthy goodies and baked breakfast breads makes their day. Even a few decorations bring a smile to their faces. For our police and fire departments, the same thing. They really appreciate it when the community takes the time to pop in and thank them–especially with treats and a thankful smile.

I also can’t let the holiday slip past and not make some delicious cookies. I gather my foodie friends and my sister, and we all bring our favorite cookies and recipes. We also decorate baked cookies (that my sister kindly brings all baked) and then we wrap them all up. We end up with a wonderful assortment. Some go home with my guests and some we bring to the fire, police stations and senior centers. We also bring piles of magazines that we have read and are ready to pass along to our new friends.

So, as this wonderful 2016 holiday season unfolds, I look forward to sprinkling some holiday cheer, and I hope you can too. A grateful smile is really worth its weight in gold. We have so much to be grateful for.
Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas!