by Erin Thursby
The holidays are about more than presents; they’re about giving and sharing. This is the time of year when we feel lucky for all we have. But if the holidays make you stressed and sad, sometimes giving to those in need can be a better gift to yourself than anything you might receive in a bow and wrapping paper. With that in mind, we’re going to highlight several ways to give back and make the holiday brighter for both those you give to and yourself.
Maybe you know someone who wants to give back, but they don’t know where to start. This Christmas you can give them the gift of giving from, a project of the Nonprofit Center, allowing them to choose which cause they want to donate to from their gift certificate. It’s also an easy way for you to give during this busy holiday season.
“ gift cards are Giving to the 4th Power,” says Rena Coughlin, the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida Chief Executive Officer. “The giver feels great, the person who receives the gift card supports a nonprofit project that is personally meaningful, the local charity is able to do more to help others, and the people who need some extra help at this time of receive the ultimate gift. At the end of the chain is a more vital local community. Really, it’s perfect!”
Here’s how it works: local nonprofits sign up with short-term, specific projects rather than nebulous fund-raising. You can sort by type of charity (benefiting animals, seniors, kids, the disabled, the environment, etc.), by amount of money you can donate, by organization or by the amount of time left to donate. Projects such as expanding kennel capacity at No More Homeless Pets, bringing the Museum of Science and History’s learning cart to hospitalized children, or exterior paint and landscaping for a HabiJax house are just some of the undertakings you can donate to, though there are many others.
Dollar amounts are attached to items which will help complete the project. For the exterior work on a HabiJax house, a $10 donation goes to paint brushes, while $50 goes to paint and $100 goes toward laying sod.
One of their donors, Britt, praises on their website: “It is so simple to find an organization that you believe in. I feel very fortunate to have a website like this one where I can rest assured that my donation is going where it is needed and where I intended.”

Power Up Jax
The future is our children. But sometimes, the future isn’t funded. That’s where Power Up Jax comes in. This website,, from the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, gives the public a way to fund gaps that taxes just don’t fill.
On the front page, you can enter in a school’s name or a teacher’s name to search. Or, if you aren’t interested in a specific teacher or school, you can scroll down to featured projects, where teachers have reached out for funding. Teachers need everything from headphones, to books, to gardening tools for a school garden. At Pine Estates Elementary, science teacher Rebecca Cook is looking to build rockets and take her kids to the Kennedy Space Center, with a goal of $300. From Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, English teacher Simone Aden is hoping to raise $250 and says: “I teach 6 sections of 10th grade English. I have found that many students do not read on their own. It is these students who tend to struggle most. I think if I had a classroom set of Young Adult novels I may be able to inspire them to read.”
The mission of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund is to “inform and mobilize the community to advocate for universally high-quality public schools for all children.” Unsurprisingly, it’s a very informative website, with all sorts of data on graduation rates, school performance and much more.
Most of the goals are only a few hundred dollars, just enough to be too much to fund on a teacher’s salary, but certainly low enough that it wouldn’t take as many donations to fund as many of the other charity projects out there. Community First Cares Foundation is matching every dollar (up to $5,000) for every dollar you donate to the teacher’s projects on Even if you don’t give, the website is worth a look, if only to learn about our local school system.
Hands On Jacksonville & Volunteer Match
If you want to give time rather than money this holiday season, there are two websites in particular that we can recommend: and Both Volunteer Match and Hands On Jacksonville have committee slots which need to be filled. For a young adult or someone who wants to make their resume just a little shinier, committees have the added benefit of leadership experience, along with the joy of giving.
It’s not always about stuffing envelopes. Say you have a set of particular skills: graphic artists, accountants, performers and doctors are just some of people needed for volunteer work. When I volunteered with Hands On Jacksonville, I used skills I had from building sets in theater and building fences at my family farm. By the end of the day I’d helped to build a wheelchair ramp behind a home. Before we built it, the man who lived there couldn’t leave his home without assistance.
On Volunteer Match, if you look at the Volunteer Stories, you’ll see what an impact particular skills can have. Some volunteer virtually, such as Jenna Wittingham, who volunteered her skills as a graphic designer for the American Cancer Society. “There are so many ways to volunteer,” says Jenna, in Volunteer Stories. “I didn’t realize I could use my design knowledge to help. I learned from browsing Volunteer Match that there are so many people out there trying to make this world a better place, and I hope that more people lend a hand to them. They won’t regret it.”
But skills aren’t always needed. Sometimes all that’s needed is a giving heart and a pair of hands. Hands On has plenty of projects, long and short, especially as we get close to the holidays. You can set up the Toy Shop at the Salvation Army, help with food collection, deliver book-bags filled with books, clean up waterways and much more. The option to filter by age on the Hands On website, is helpful for families and the youngest volunteers.
Volunteer Match has more long term gigs, such as volunteer usher at the planetarium (for seniors over 55) or as a leader of Sierra Club expeditions. While Volunteer Match is a national organization and therefore not as locally geared as Hands On, VM’s advantage is the very peculiar “cause areas.” There are 29 categories for causes from animal advocacy to sports and LGBT to hunger. Basically, if you know the type of person or cause you’re interested in helping, they have a category for it. The national angle also means there are more virtual opportunities to help nonprofits across the country.