CGD 2By Alicia Dziak

You’ve heard it a million times: The holidays are about giving. While there’s nothing quite like watching those closest to you unwrap the perfect gift, giving back to people you may not even know can also give you a sense of satisfaction you may not have expected.

Those wishing to make a physical donation have countless places to choose from.

Food pantries are a great resource for those families needing a little extra help with the holiday and other meals, and donating to local pantries is a great way to help local families. Food pantries are always looking for a variety of food items.

If you can spare some time, holding a food drive is a great way to take it to the next level. For instance, Springville Elementary’s Student Council holds an annual food drive in December, and each grade level in the school is responsible for donating a specific type of food item, such as cereal, pasta and peanut butter. At the conclusion of the drive, all items are donated to the local food pantry.

See “Letter to the Editor” on page 3 regarding guidelines for food pantry donations.

Along similar lines, holding a clothing drive will really benefit a lot of people who could use that old coat, pair of boots or pants that you aren’t using anymore. Consider taking up a collection of these items from your friends and family, and donating them to a local place like the Trading Post in Springville (

If you don’t have anything physical to give, there are still plenty of options for giving your time.

Nursing homes are a great place to spread some holiday cheer. Call the activity director at various local nursing homes — most of them are more than willing to accommodate requests for carolers or activities helpers. My kids and I organize a group every year to visit a local nursing home where my grandma resides, and we sing carols and hand out homemade Christmas cards to the residents. The smiles are so worth the minimal cost of the card making supplies, and it’s a nice excuse to get the kids (and me!) singing.

Absolut Care in Salamanca (945-1800), Pines Health Care in Machias (353-8516), and Jennie B. Richmond Nursing Home in Springville (592-2871) are all within a short drive of Ellicottville.

Many nonprofit organizations hold special holiday events this time of year to raise money, and several are almost completely run by volunteers.

Camp Good Days and Special Times, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children, adults and families whose lives have been touched by cancer, is holding their annual Kazoo Fest now through Dec. 23. The event, held at the Walden Galleria Mall in Buffalo, needs dozens of volunteers to man their stand at the mall, selling kazoos, cookbooks and ornaments and other items made by kids who attend the camp. Dec. 6 will mark the fifth year my kids and I have participated in this, and even though it’s technically “work,” the kids really look forward to it every year. We make a day of it by volunteering for a few hours, followed by shopping and lunch.

“Volunteering at Kazoo Fest for Camp Good Days is a really fun way to help out with a great cause,” said Campbell Brown, 10, of Springville.

What better way to mix quality family time with community service! For more information, visit

The Teacher’s Desk, a store where teachers shop free for students in need, is another place my family likes to volunteer in December. In addition to providing resources for teachers, the organization distributes hundreds of toys, shoes and other items to local families in need, and they are always looking for volunteers to sort inventory, and to assist in the warehouse and store. For more information, email

Making an item and then donating the proceeds to a charity is also a great way to give back. For instance, Katy Herbach, owner of Katy’s Cafe, is again holding her Katy’s Cookies for Compassion fundraiser. Now through Dec. 22, a cash donation gets you a bag of her delicious homemade sugar cookies. All proceeds go to Family Support of Ellicottville.

Volunteering is a huge part of my life, and I work hard to instill the importance of helping others in my two daughters. If you take the time to do a little research, you’ll find that there are volunteer opportunities to suit every age and interest, and there’s no time like the holidays to get started. Check out various opportunities on

Give a dollar, give an hour, share your talents or be part of something you’ve never experienced before. Chances are you’ll learn something new, meet some great people, and feel amazing afterwards!