The holiday season is known for many things. Twinkling lights, cheerful songs, gift-giving, cookie-eating – and, of course, shopping. But apart from being one of the most commerce-enthused times of the year, the holiday season also has the distinction of being the most generous – and we don’t just mean to friends, family members and the others who make our annual Christmas shopping lists.
Because when consumers look to give during the season, they are often thinking bigger than their immediate circle, looking outward to the people who are in need this year. Charitable organizations report that on average, they receive between a quarter and half of their annual donations from individuals during December, and roughly 80 percent of Americans report making at least one charitable contribution during the season.
And if ever there was a year in need of consumers’ generosity, 2020 would be it. As Christmas Day draws closer, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States and around the world.
It’s the best of times because as of this week, the vaccine went into official public release in the United Kingdom. And here in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reportedly within days of authorizing similar emergency access authorization. The vaccine is here – and the end is within sight.
But COVID-19 is putting up one heck of a last stand. Case numbers continue to climb rapidly nationwide, shutdowns and other regulations are going into effect and the death count is breaking records seemingly each day.
Unemployment is at 6.7 percent – a big drop from the pandemic peak of 14.7 percent logged earlier this year, but still high enough to mean that a job is going to be at the top of millions of Americans’ Christmas wish lists.
A raging global pandemic and the slow walk back to economic recovery are big problems – bigger that any individual’s capacity to solve in a single stroke. Confronting such massive issues as individuals is in most cases simply overwhelming – and has pushed many of us to our couches, ordering in takeout and watching Netflix until this whole miserable experience is over.
But where many are overwhelmed, some feel very differently. They become inspired. Because even if they can’t fix global-scale problems, they can still help make the world a slightly nicer place for the holiday season.
The Corporate Contributions
Individuals give big during the holiday season, but corporations tend to give bigger as a factor of their size and scale. And while corporate discounts or charitable donations can be quite lucrative and therefore impactful, they usually aren’t called out for being particularly creative.
But McDonald’s seems to be aiming to take the creativity crown in 2020 with one of the most elemental acts of generosity known to man. It’s giving away free food to qualifying customers.
From Dec. 14 to Christmas Eve, McDonald’s will be giving away a different food item every day, inspired by a different classic holiday character – with a fairly wide range for what’s considered a “holiday character.”
Santa makes the list (with two chocolate chip cookies), but so does John McClane of Die Hard (truly the world’s finest Christmas movie), whose holiday meal deal is a free McDouble. Also included are hotcakes in honor of Buddy the Elf on Dec. 20, coffee for Scrooge on Dec. 21 and an Egg McMuffin for the Grinch on Dec. 16.
It’s not an entirely free offer, however. To get a holiday meal deal from McDonald’s, consumers will have to make a purchase of at least $1 to qualify.
Elsewhere in the world of interesting and slightly out-of-the-box contributions is a move by Pepsi, which is taking the holiday as an opportunity for some very targeted giving – to the bodega owners of New York City.
“Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” Umi Patel, chief marketing officer of the north division for PepsiCo Beverages North America, said in announcing the program. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure that their customers, friends and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe,” Patel said. “They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”
Pepsi is dropping a short film entitled The Bodega Giveback, in which Bodega Boys podcast hosts Desus Nice and The Kid Mero head to JJN Corp Deli and Grocery in the Bronx to surprise its owner, Juan, with a check to help cover a full year of rent through 2021.
“Bodegas are the lifeblood of the neighborhood and are central to the culture of New York,” Desus Nice and The Kid Mero said in a statement. “We’re children of immigrants – our story is Juan’s story – so we’re excited to work with Pepsi to be able to pay it forward and help him like he has done for so many.”
The film is part of a larger giveback plan during the holiday season that will see Pepsi gifting cash to bodega owners across New York City’s five boroughs. In addition, to encourage New Yorkers to shop at their corner stores this holiday season, Pepsi is surprising some customers who shop at local bodegas across the five boroughs between Dec. 11 and Dec. 20 with prepaid credit cards of up to $100 per person.
While the rich and famous tend to give during the holiday season, some truly bring a “go big or go ho-ho-home” attitude to the season.
Taylor Swift, for example, deserves a particularly honorable mention – and not just for dropping two albums in 2020 (apparently stay-at-home orders are good for songwriting). She’s really bringing personalization to her donations.
After spotting a Christmas lights display on a fan’s Twitter account that mentioned a local food bank, Swift replied by both complimenting the display and noting that she had taken the tweet’s suggestions and made a donation.
As it turns out, Swift was just getting started. After reading a Washington Post article about mothers who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, she decided to start finding moms to bail out.
Swift started with Nashville’s Nikki Cornwell, who on GoFundMe reported being $5,000 behind on rent and unable to afford Christmas with her family.
“Nikki, I read about you in the Washington Post and thought it was really brave of you to share your story,” Swift wrote on the GoFundMe page while making a $13,000 donation. “I’m so sorry for everything you’ve had to go through this year and wanted to send you this gift, from one Nashville girl to another. Love, Taylor.”
Michigan mom Shelbie Selewski was another parent mentioned in the Post article, to whom Swift reached out with another $13,000 donation.
And where Taylor Swift donates, Taylor’s fans follow. Cornwell had raised $22,495 against her $3,500 goal, and Selewski had raised $20,684 versus her $8,000 goal.
“With every notification, I swear I cannot believe this has happened!!!” Selewski has since written on her updated page. “This is so amazing! This has been the biggest blessing and our family is absolutely shocked.”
And while Taylor Swift wins 2020’s gold-star award for celebrities finding ways to give back to the world, she is far from alone in her efforts at playing Santa for those in need. Screenwriter and film producer Tyler Perry held a holiday giveaway in Atlanta, providing non-perishable food items and gift cards to 5,000 local families in need.
And basketball legend Michael Jordan has pledged a $2 million donation from his HBO retrospective documentary “The Last Dance” to the anti-hunger charity Feeding America.
“In these challenging times and in a year of unimaginable difficulty due to COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to pause and give thanks. I am proud to be donating additional proceeds … to help feed America’s hungry,” Jordan said in a statement.
An honorable mention goes to Dolly Parton, whose big act of charity this year was pre-holiday 2020, but is being credited by fans as potentially having saved the world.
Back in April, Parton announced that she had donated $1 million to Vanderbilt after her friend Dr. Naji Abumrad, a professor of surgery at the university, told her about the work researchers were doing to come up with a vaccine, according to The New York Times. Those funds went on to create the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund, helping pay for the first part of the vaccine research, the Times wrote.
The government went on to kick in $1 billion, but researchers consistently maintain that Dolly’s money was critical in getting the Moderna vaccine development process off the ground, according to the paper.
Parton, for her part, is not claiming credit for saving the world – although true to form, she is glad to have been able to help. “I’m a very proud girl today to know I had anything at all to do with something that’s going to help us through this crazy pandemic,” she said on “The One Show.”
Anyone Can Make a Difference
Reading these kinds of lists can be both encouraging and discouraging at the same time. After all, few of us are as large as McDonald’s, as famous as Taylor Swift or an actual living superhero/saint like Dolly Parton.
But one high school in a small town in Texas has opened a student-led grocery store to support families in need.
Linda Tutt High School in Sanger, Texas opened its little shop in November so students could purchase necessities including toilet paper, meat and basic food items. But this store doesn’t take money – to pay for purchases, students trade points they have earned by doing good deeds.
“In our school district, there’s roughly 2,750 students enrolled, and throughout the district, 43 percent of these students are considered economically disadvantaged,” Anthony Love, the principal at Linda Tutt, told CNN. “About 3.6 percent of our students are considered homeless. We thought it was important to support them and their families and make sure they had food on the table.”
Working in partnership with First Refuge Ministries, Texas Health Resources and the grocery store Albertsons, students manage the inventory, stock the shelves and help other students find and bag the products they need.
The shop is open to all students in the district and their families. Purchases can be made using a number of points given to them, which are initially set depending on the size of their family. Past that first allotment, students can earn more points via excellent academic performance or points rewarded for doing good deeds or completing jobs around school like mentoring or library work.
The store is open Mondays through Wednesdays for students and employees in the school district, and for one hour on Tuesday for the public.
On Dec. 15, the store will be open to the entire community in Sanger – because one of the lessons of 2020 is that there is always a new way to give. It might be as straightforward as a donation, as whimsical as a Frosty the Snowman shake, as personalized as a GoFundMe campaign or as simple as making sure people who do good deeds don’t go to bed hungry.
So, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and encourage you to find a way to give more this holiday season. Unless you happen to be Dolly Parton. In that case, you’ve done enough and can take the rest of the season off.