the art of giving back by amy zambrano

“Ohhhh! Next time you take your kids to a shelter, PLEASE tell me! I would love to take mine too!”  Whenever I would do charitable work with my own children, I would often hear something like that from friends.  After a while, “Island Angels” was born.  I live on Key Biscayne, as did the original bulk of my list, hence the “Island” part.  It became an e-mail list compiled of people that were interested in just knowing about the opportunities to help others.  As people heard of the list, more requests came and the list grew.  Today I have a few hundred local families on my list, and I send out all of the opportunities I know about to help others.  What I have realized is that people like to help and to give in different ways.  Some like the hands-on opportunities and some like to shop for something to help. Others like to donate their own items they no longer use, while some like to donate time or effort…sometimes from their home, and sometimes on location.  Many like to help by supporting galas and fundraisers, and yet others like to shoot a Venmo donation or click on an online purchase that will mean something to someone in need. 

This is what I mean by “The Art of Giving Back”.  Figure out what kind of helping moves you…fits into your life…feels manageable and meaningful to you and your family.  Life can feel overwhelming and often the prospect of volunteerism just seems like a pipe-dream when you look at the pace of your own life.  Helping others doesn’t have to mean a Saturday multi-hour on-location event.  Nor lots of money out of pocket.  Or an on-going commitment you’re afraid you can’t sustain.  Anytime you DO have the opportunity, the time, and the inclination, just do it.  I send out opportunities of all kinds because I have learned that people are drawn to different types of initiatives and stories.  Sometimes it’s an opportunity to help a local senior whose wife died suddenly to clean up his lawn…or asking for kids to write letters of thanks to the troops from home or with their classes/clubs.  Sometimes it’s a collection for a specific person/family, like a mother and daughter who lost their home in a fire.  Sometimes it’s “adopting” a teen in a shelter and creating a “welcome box” for them.  Or taking the kids of a family in a homeless shelter shopping to buy a Mother’s Day gift for their own mom…usually for the very first time!  The opportunities are endless.  So one of the big-picture ways I have been giving back for well over a decade now is by connecting people to opportunities and trying to make it easier for them to find ways to help others.  During the holidays, I try and send out all sorts of ways to show love to others. 

Here are some ideas you might not have thought about before.  I have long said that my favorite quote is from Muhammad Ali,  “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”.  Not only do I believe that wholeheartedly, but I can also tell you that it just feels good. To you and to the recipient. 

  • Bake holiday cookies with your family and put in holiday gift bags and drive around and pass out as random acts of holiday kindness!  A toll-taker, someone at a bus stop, your UPS man, etc.
  • Have leftovers from your holiday feast?  Pack a Tupperware and give it to someone homeless that you see regularly at a local intersection or store.
  • Carry $10 gift cards to Subway or Publix or other fast food places to give to people asking for money to show love, and assure it will be used for food.
  • Make a holiday donation to Overtown’s “TOUCHING MIAMI WITH LOVE” after school program in honor of someone and they will mail a beautiful card recognizing the donation to the person you are gifting on behalf of… they can also send an online card if it’s preferred. 
  • “Adopt” a family living at the “NEW LIFE FAMILY SHELTER” for the holidays by donating a new “bed-in-a-bag” for a full-sized bed. Or a set of new bath towels.  There are 15 families at the shelter.  
  • Donate a new toy for the children living at “LOTUS HOUSE WOMENS SHELTER”, or a gift for the moms who are homeless and often battered.  
  • Adopt a family from “MUJER” not-for-profit where the families are victims of domestic and sexual abuse and shop for them from their wish-list.  You can also donate home-made bread (banana, pumpkin, etc), gift cards, and new blankets for the families.
  • Take your family in person to pack the gifts at Lotus House shelter (December 18/19).
  • Host a dessert buffet at Miami’s only shelter for homeless teens, “MIAMI BRIDGE”.  
  • Volunteer with your family to provide hands-on help during the holidays at Homestead’s “BRIDGE TO HOPE”.
  • Sponsor an iPad (or even part of one) to be shipped overseas to an active-duty deployed soldier through “IPADSFORSOLDIERS.ORG”.
  • Create a care package filled with goodies and ship to a soldier(s) overseas.
  • Sponsor an event at a charitable organization for the kids (ie: an animal show, magician, etc). Our kids go to parties and see these things all the time but these kids never do and are amazed!!
  • Provide a bunch of tickets to a movie, play, concert, sporting event, etc, to kids in a program for underserved youth.
  • Take your kids to deliver flowers and holiday cards to seniors at a retirement center.
  • Gather the kids and their friends and create a list of seniors in your neighborhood and go sing carols door-to-door (extra fun if you have the kids bake cookies first and leave them with some treats!).
  • Consider having your kids select an item(s) from their holiday haul to deliver to an org.  They can ALWAYS use them for incentives, prizes, etc.  
  • Provide an item needed by a local not-for-profit in the name of someone you would otherwise be buying a present for.  ie:  A bbq grill for the org to host BBQs, a volleyball net for an after school program, etc.  Take the person you are buying it to honor with you to deliver it, so they see the gratitude from the recipients!  
  • Fill an old purse(s) or one/multiple of those beauty brand bag giveaways or even just a big Ziploc with feminine hygiene products, chapstick, deodorant, other toiletries, and new socks and keep it in your car to hand out to females living on the street.  The hygiene products are much needed but seldom purchased because of the cost.  

Enjoy your holidays and consider sharing your own blessings with others in our community in whatever way you feel works for you!  I can help to facilitate any of the items above (links, contact info, soldier shipping info, etc).  Just contact me at  Happy Holidays! ~ Amy

Amy Zambrano