After a long and stressful year, the ongoing pandemic may have you feeling more separated than usual from the world. You might be craving a connection with others — especially with the holidays rolling around.

The holidays this year will look different than any before, with most family gatherings and celebrations turned virtual. But just because this winter won’t be the same doesn’t mean it can’t be a festive time filled with joy and cheer.

Giving back to your neighborhood is a way to connect with your community and find positivity during the holiday season – also known as the season of giving!

Here are some ways to give back to your neighborhood that will bring your family closer while spreading joy among those close to you.

Start a Little Free Library with books that have meaningful messages

Gather some of your old books and share your love for their words in a little free library. You can either buy one from the official Little Free Library store, or there are ways to upcycle old furniture and scraps all on your own.

These are little boxes usually sitting on top of a post that hold a collection of books for anyone strolling by to pick one out. The reclaimed cabinets and chicken coops have been popping up all over the country.

Your little free library can start with a small collection of used books that grows and changes as your neighbors stop by. Your community can trade in some of their old favorites for a new story to get lost in. Sharing a book is sharing love!

Start a Little Free Pantry or Donate to Local Food Drives

COVID-19 has presented many financial challenges for folks around the country, , including layoffs, rent instability, and food insecurity.

Some families who have lost a significant source of income or job stability could be struggling to get food on the table right now. Creating a pantry from recycled wood is another generous way to engage with and support those around you. You just may be lending a hand to someone who needs it the most.

Help those in your neighborhood struggling with food stability by offering some of your extra non-perishable food and encouraging others to do the same.

Here are some methods and tips on how to start a free library for some tips on how to create a weather-proof food donation box for your front yard.

Decorate Your Windows with Encouraging Messages and Pictures

This is a great way to get your kiddos involved in showing encouragement lifting the spirits of your neighbors. Sit down with art supplies like crayons and colored pencils and big paper.

Craft drawings of happy animals, or write inspiring quotes.Hang your new masterpieces in your window for anyone driving or walking by to see. You’ll send them a smile for sure!

Offer to Help with Yard or House Work

Elders and differently-abled folks may be having a more difficult time than usual, with restrictions on in-person services and changes in healthcare availability.

Ask your neighbors if they could use some extra support, especially with outdoor work (so you are not bringing germs into their home) like raking, pulling weeds, or shoveling snow and ice.

They’ll be grateful to have someone as sweet as you living nearby!

Adopt a Trail

Adopting a trail is a powerful way to consistently make a difference in your neighborhood.

When you adopt a trail, you can:

  • Help keep wildlife safe from waste
  • Protect plants from trash and help nourish them
  • Create a beautiful neighborhood
  • Enjoy the outdoors

Organizing a group to go pick up trash even once a month can make a big difference. Together, cleaning a trail will be easier and bring the group closer all while helping nature.

Sign up here to adopt a trail in Boulder County.

Start a Community Garden

In Boulder County, there are over 400 community garden plots. Once each garden community has a leader of their choosing, they can register their plot at a site called Growing Gardens. This resource also offers gardening classes and lots of other resources on their website.

Once you have access to the plot, clean the site and create a design.Having a plan for your garden and where you want certain plants to grow will help foster healthy growth – growing all like items together like vegetables, herbs, or trees — will help you stay organized and foster the growth of the plants.

Some community gardens also have dedicated sections for the various “owners” or community members who grow their own crops.

Reserve space for all elements you’d like to eventually house at your garden. Common inclusions like a hand-washing station, a communication or bulletin board, and picnic tables.

Do research on what makes a successful community garden and how to get your community involved in your mission. There are even grants you could apply for and programs to help get your project off the ground.

You could also start a local compost bin or include it in your garden – this will help eliminate lots of food waste, and ultimately help soften your neighborhood’s impact on the environment.

Make Face Masks

Know how to sew? These days, a skill like that makes you a superhero!

Make face masks to distribute to your neighborhood and help keep everyone safe as COVID-19 continues.

Just be sure the material is tightly woven so the least amount of particle matter can travel through and into the surrounding air.

Birthday Drive-By Parade

Birthdays and celebrations have likely felt a little less celebratory than normal this year. If you know when your neighbors’ birthdays are, make their day by decorating your car with balloons, streamers, and/or a homemade sign.

Drive-by parades have become very popular this year, as this socially-distanced activity can still show that you care for your neighbors, even if you can’t be physically close to them.

Give Blood

The nation’s supply of life-saving donations like blood and plasma are very low due to social distancing and people staying home. If you’re healthy and not immunocompromised, giving blood is a safe activity that can really help out those in need. Find places to donate blood here.

While these uncertain times continue, the smallest act of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s mental health. Spreading joy is something we could all use a little more of this year.

Keep your love for your neighborhood going in the new year with a better way to dispose of your food scraps. Composting helps you eliminate food waste from your household and in turn gives back to nature.

If you have a garden, comport replaces the need for chemicals and fertilizers, enriching the soil naturally and creating an inviting place for plants of all kinds to blossom.

Learn what you can and can’t compost here >