For several years, my brother and I would visit a local homeless shelter on Thanksgiving morning. We would show up very early and help prepare and then serve Thanksgiving meals. By the time we sat down for our own family meal later that day, our hearts as well as our bellies were full of gratitude. Whether you have a longstanding tradition of volunteering during the holidays, or you find you have a bit of free time this year and want to do some good, these organizations need you!

3 Ways volunteering can help you save 

Volunteering can facilitate savings of both time and funds—here are three specific examples.

  • Cut back on gift giving. If your family is struggling to get out of the habit of spending too much on holiday gifts, bringing the kids to spend a day serving others can help them accept the change more readily. (One idea: Pool funds your family would have spent on gifts and donate to a local charity!)
  • Bring the family together. If you are hosting the family for the holidays this year, adding a shared service opportunity to the calendar can help everyone feel closer (and ease any potential inter-family strains by focusing energy towards an uplifting shared goal).
  • Helping others simply feels good. The endorphins that come from giving back can ease holiday stress and worry. You will feel better—and sleep better—after a day well spent in giving back!

5 Great organizations that want your time 

No matter where you live or how much (or little) time you have, these organizations can find a way to put you to work for a good cause!

1. Volunteer Match

Volunteer Match is perhaps the most comprehensive database of volunteer opportunities available online. My own charity has used their services to help find volunteers, and I have also found volunteer opportunities through searching their database. I highly recommend them!

What to do:

2. VolunTEENnation

The name is a mouthful, but the concept is simple—this is a nationwide database (similar to Volunteer Match) just for teen volunteers.

What to do:

  • Visit http://www.volunteennation.org.
  • Use the easy form on the right-hand side of the homepage to fill in your criteria.
  • Click "search," and select the opportunities you are interested in!

3. Volunteer through Military.com

Due to increased security at the U.S. Postal Service, it is no longer possible to just address a holiday note to "Any Service Person" and have it delivered. So Military.com has compiled a list of nonprofit organizations that can help you and your family band together to send holiday cheer and thanks to our soldiers.

What to do:

4. Adopt a Senior Citizen

There are many ways to reach out to senior citizens in your community who may struggle with sadness or loneliness during the holiday season.

What to do:

  • Check with your local nonprofits (United Way, Meals on Wheels, churches, Salvation Army, etc.) to see what existing programs are available.
  • Call a local senior center and ask if they would be interested to have your family/your group put on a little festive party for their residents.
  • Some animal shelters and charities also have programs to match senior citizens with senior pets—consider offering a lonely senior a sweet pet for the holidays by paying any adoption fees and driving them to pick out their pet!

5. BONUS: White House Volunteer

Did you know that every year, the White House recruits volunteers to help decorate? You will want to apply early for 2015 (so this is an advance-planning opportunity for your family for next year) as slots are limited.

What to do: