12/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When Times are Tough, the Tough Get Going -- and Volunteer

Times are tough and may get worse. If you are one of the lucky few like me who has a job, a house or apartment you don't have to sell or vacate, and a decent income, you probably still feel anxious and maybe even a little guilty. Not all the members of my family are in such good shape. Brows are furrowed everywhere as the stock market volatility eats into our savings.

I've been receiving a lot of mail from nonprofits in my community asking for money. And I'll donate what I can. But there are other things we can do that involve more than just money -- volunteer our time. This holiday season it is even more important than ever to actually spend time helping someone else.

This interest in helping is a product of our recent election, where 10 million people contributed to President-elect Obama's campaign and millions more made phone calls or knocked on doors. I wrote in the Huffington Post about this right after the election, when the interest in helping was at its peak. "Ask not what Obama can do for you..." At that point, I was thinking more of political help.

Since that time, many of us may have turned inward, and the glow of the moment may have faded somewhat. So this blog is less about what you can do politically than what you can do with your own time and the resources you have that are not political.

Here are a few ways you can help out this holiday season and beyond:

1.Donate money. This is the easiest thing to do, but sometimes it's hard to figure out what the neediest organizations are and where you can be sure your dollars will actually go to the people who need them.

a- The Salvation Army ---you can donate money, an old car, volunteer to ring those bells. How many times have you walked right past those bell ringers without even smiling?

b. The Heifer project--give a goat, a water buffalo, a pig -- instead of big presents to family and friends this year, give them the pleasure of providing an animal to a family that will help sustain them.

c. Mercy Corps - - another organization that gives animals and food internationally

d. How to help at Christmas - this website has lots of good ideas of ways you can help.

e. Donate to the Permanent Fund to Alleviate Extreme Poverty --this is a unique way to support women entrepreneurs internationally. Every penny goes to the microloans made to these women.

2. Donate food - There are many organizations that provide food - both meals and canned food - to people in your community. Second Harvest is one of the most well known. There is a "food bank locator" on this website that makes it really easy to find a place near you where you can drop off food.

Operation Blessing provides ways to give food both in America and internationally.
And your local churches no doubt are active as well.

3. Donate your time-- this option takes the most commitment, but it can be really rewarding to be face to face with people who need your help. There are dozens of great organizations that will match your skills with their needs.

Volunteer Match is a cool site that allows you to put in your zip code and area of interest and it lists places where you live that need your help --

Even your employer may be encouraging employees to spend time, sometimes even during work hours, to help out.

Several other organizations stand ready to give you lots of ideas about how to volunteer - Be the Change -- and Service Nation are working with Obama to promote volunteerism - and Obama's site also has ideas and ways for you to stay involved.

This holiday, in addition to sharing your recipes for Thanksgiving, share with us at Huffington Post, your ideas about volunteering and helping. Tell us what has worked for you and what it has meant to you. Because helping really needs to meet your needs in order to meet someone else's.