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The Broke Guide to Giving Back: From sharing your skills with The DI to doggy drive-bys, keeping your heart full when your wallet is empty

“Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” – J.M. Barrie

This is a call to arms, Calgarians. The arms that would be hugging the ever-loving stuffing out of each other right now if public health measures allowed it. It’s time to start terrorizing this city… with kindness. That’s right. It’s time for a campaign of care-mongering.

If there is one thing Calgary should best be known for, it would be the generosity of spirit and the driving belief that we take care of one another. Calgarians come together. 

It’s hard to give back though, when, for many among us, the struggle is now wholly relegated to keeping our very own heads above water. It’s been a year of great loss for so many. 

But sometimes, it’s when one has lost the most that one finds they have the most to give. Empathy overflows when you’ve been through the wringer yourself. Here’s how you can give back without breaking the bank.

Skills to Pay the Bills

Volunteering is a rather obvious suggestion – there’s no question that many Calgary charities are critically in need of support. Agencies like the Drop-In Centre and Alpha House are working non-stop to keep some of the most vulnerable Calgarians safe, healthy and housed. 

What many folks don’t realize is that countless community organizations don’t just need your time – they need your skills too. It’s that much more rewarding when you’re able to put your own passions and talents to good use. Sites like Volunteer Canada, Charity Village, Idealist, Volly, and Propellus can help you narrow down the search for your perfect volunteer gig — with many offering “virtual volunteer” opportunities that you can tackle from home.

A Very Marie Kondo to You

Did you know that socks are among the most in-demand items at shelters? Chances are, you’ve got a stash of about 16 untouched pairs from the last seven Christmases in your closet. Do you really need the dozens of hotel soaps you’ve collected? How about the freebie toothbrushes from the dentist? You’ve got swag bags, water bottles and travel mugs galore. And seriously, how many PBR toques does one really need in their lives? 

If you live in an area with a highly visible and vulnerable population, clear out your closets and cabinets. Fill care totes to give out if you don’t have the coin to spare. Or donate items in person to any of this city’s numerous housing agencies. 

Be The Change YYC, a Calgary street outreach team, will even take your disposable plastic bags and weave them into sleeping mats for those living rough. Most charities have wish lists a mile long, and guaranteed, you’ve got something in your closet that could be better utilized by someone in need.

Ease Up on the Doomsday Prepping

Did you maybe go a little overboard with your lockdown shopping back in March? Do you find yourself staring into a cupboard full of Stagg cans and thinking to yourself, “But I don’t even like chili!” 

If you can spare it, share it. The Calgary Food Bank and Veteran’s Food Bank are both still accepting in-person donations, and other initiatives like Calgary Community Fridge have a 24/7 take what you need/give what you can system that offers accessible, judgement-free food and necessities to anyone who needs them.

Thank You for Your Loyalty

You’ve been carrying around a wallet full of cards for years, scanning them religiously with every purchase — and you have no idea what they’re good for. Believe it or not, many Canadian charities accept loyalty points in lieu of cash donations. 

The Canadian Red Cross accepts Aeroplan, HBC Rewards and Shoppers Optimum points. Airmiles will turn your points into Kids Help Phone and Food Banks Canada donations – or you can pick out wish-list items for donation to Canadian YMCAs and the Special Olympics. MORE Rewards points can be turned into donations for local children’s hospitals, and most credit card rewards can be transferred to numerous charities across the country.

Couch Potato Bottle Drive

Dragging bags of recyclables to the bottle depot is about the least enjoyable mid-winter task, so make someone else do the heavy lifting for you. Download the Skip the Depot app and they’ll pick-up and sort your recyclables for you. They also take clothing and electronics donations. The best part? You can request that your bottle money be donated to the charity of your choice – there are over 700 to choose from.

Doggy Drive-By

Calgarians living in residential care facilities have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. At the best of times, many residents are socially isolated – and even more so now. 

As Charles Schultz said, “Happiness is a warm puppy,” and although most care homes no longer allow direct interaction, take a daytime stroll and let Rover run around, wrestle and fetch in front of a captive audience. Some residences have scheduled common area times, and a quick phone call is all it takes to pick the best time to drop by. 

You can even raise funds on your way there and back with dog walk apps like ResQ Walk and WoofTrax, who convert your steps to cash for the animal welfare charity of your choice. That lockdown 15 will be a thing of the past.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Blood donations are about the easiest possible way to give back without costing you a dime. Canadian Blood Services has seen a downturn in donations since March, and with winter comes one of the most in-demand seasons for blood transfusions, and an increased demand for donors who have recovered from COVID-19. 

Download the Canadian Blood Services app, schedule an appointment, answer a screening questionnaire, and roll up your sleeve. The Eau Claire clinic offers free parking AND free cookies.

As some folks may not be eligible to give blood, consider signing up to become an organ donor. You can do this in person at any Alberta Registry or online at myhealth.alberta.ca. 

Harm Reduction for the Holidays

Alberta’s silent epidemic has not dissipated – opioid fatalities have surged in the shadow of COVID-19. Naloxone kits are free and available from any Calgary pharmacy. Pick one up, learn how to use it and help reverse preventable opioid overdoses and deaths. 

Write It In

Calgary has an incredible community of artisans and entrepreneurs – all of whom have been disproportionately affected by public health measures and restrictions. In such a relatively short amount of time, we’ve already lost so many shops, restaurants, and music venues who just didn’t have the support to stay afloat. One could argue that Calgary businesses are as in need now as any charity. 

If you don’t have the cash to shop and support local as much as you’d like, then make the effort to talk up the small businesses and artists you love – in particular, the ones that may not have the means to implement costly delivery services or upgrade their websites to offer online ordering. For these shops and restaurants, being out of sight means being out of mind – and it’s easy to forget one of your favourite spots if they’re not included in the endless scroll of delivery options.

Write glowing online reviews – boost those star ratings! Make local recommendations regularly on your social-media feeds. Promote your buddy’s band on Bandcamp Fridays. Give these folks the spotlight they all deserve. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Be the hype-man for your favourite Calgary shops, hotspots and artists, so that “too late” doesn’t come too soon – or at all.

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