Donating money to local charities isn’t the only way to give back to your community. You can also get creative and crafty with your philanthropy. Here are seven unexpected ways to get involved in your neighborhood—and put your skills to good use.
1. BUILD A CURBSIDE LIBRARY …
Curbside book exchanges have become a movement in the U.S. Join the feel-good craze by building your own. First, check with your community board to make sure there are no zoning laws that would prevent you from constructing one on your property. Once you’ve found blueprints you like—many are available free-of-charge online—build your mailbox-sized library, secure it in your front yard, and fill it with books for kids and adults. Anyone can come by and browse the collection, take what they’d like, and donate what they are done reading.
2. … OR A CURBSIDE FOOD PANTRY.
Instead of filling your curbside library with books, you could fill it with nonperishable foods like canned vegetables, bags of rice, or jars of peanut butter. If someone in your neighborhood is hungry, he or she can discreetly take items without having to trek to a traditional soup kitchen. (Basic toiletries such as soap and toothpaste are often also appreciated.) But make sure the doors close tightly so four-legged scavengers can’t get in—if resourceful mammals like bears live in your neighborhood, you’ll want to stick to the books.
3. READ TO SHELTER ANIMALS.
Dogs and cats in shelters are often scared by their surroundings. The environment is unfamiliar and loud and they may be confused about why they’re there. Some shelters have come up with a unique way to soothe these animals’ anxieties: reading to them. Volunteers sit with cats or dogs in a quiet space and read aloud, helping to soothe their minds and improve their socialization skills—which often increases their chances of getting adopted. Reach out to your local rescue groups to see if they have reading programs, or if you can start one.
4. INSTALL A BAT HOUSE.
Bats are an essential (and surprisingly docile) part of our ecosystem. They pollinate plants and munch on pests like flies, ants and mosquitos. A typical brown bat eats 1000 mosquitos every hour they are awake. To attract nature’s exterminator to your neighborhood, install a bat house on the side of your garage. You can buy a house pre-made at a home improvement store or build one yourself from instructions found online. Be sure to read the directions: Bats have a lot of particular needs such as direct sunlight, so their houses must face east or south.
5. ORGANIZE A TALENT SHOW.
If you can sing or dance, consider putting on a performance at a nursing center or senior home. Or if you can’t carry a tune, contact a local college a capella group, church choir, or youth dance troupe and ask if you can help organize a trip. Many residents at these centers suffer from loneliness, and may not have regular opportunities to interact with others. (Musical entertainment is just a bonus!) Before you set up a stage show, contact your local center to see what their policies are.
6. HANDWRITE NOTES TO CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL PATIENTS.
Most young patients getting treatment can’t accept unsolicited visitors. But they’d love some handwritten “Get Well Soon” cards. Turn your next sit-on-the-couch-and-watch-movies night into a card-writing party for you and your friends. Pull out the markers, construction paper, and stickers and craft colorful well wishes. Drop them off on your way to work to brighten the days of kids in need.
7. BAKE DESSERTS FOR FIRST RESPONDERS.
The next time you’re baking your famous homemade brownies, double the recipe. Wrap them up and deliver them to your local fire or police station. The job of a civil servant can often be thankless and dreary. But a dozen chocolate chip cookies is a sweet way to let them know you appreciate the work they do.