5 Ideas for How to Help Veterans & Servicemembers This Holiday Season

Robin Kocherhans Robin Kocherhans / Published Dec 20, 2019, 2:00 PM

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As joyful as the holidays are for most people, it can be a really difficult time for veterans and servicemembers who are away from their families.

Even for servicemembers who get to spend time with their loved ones, the Christmas season can bring added stress caused by tight finances and the desire to provide a day everyone will remember.

It's easy to get caught up in our own celebrations with friends and family. But our servicemembers, both current and former, have sacrificed so much. In this season of giving, the Low VA Rates family wants to encourage you to remember them, their families, and their sacrifices.

With Christmas fast approaching, here are five ways you can support our troops and give back to those who deserve it most.

1. Visit a Veteran at a Hospital

A man visits with a veteran in a hospital Veterans in assisted living homes or hospitals are often those who have given the most to their service. But they may not have friends or family nearby who can visit them, making the holidays seem extra lonely.

Taking just a little bit of extra time out of your day to brighten theirs with a visit can have a huge impact.

How to Find a VA Hospital or Home

Before you can start volunteering, you first need to find where you can go to volunteer.

If you want to find a VA hospital in your area, the VA website offers a facility listing. Simply choose your state and scroll through the list to see if there are any near your city.

You can also find VA homes by searching online for your state name plus the the term "veterans home." For example, if you live in Kansas, you would type "Kansas veterans home" into Google.

But what if you live in an area that isn't close to any VA hospitals or homes?

If there is any kind of assisted living facility or nursing home in your area, you could always call and check with them to see if they have any veterans living there who don't get visitors often.

And if that is also not an option, don't worry! We still have plenty of suggestions coming up that you can still do to show your support.

What to Say & Do During Your Visit

Graphic of suggestions you can say and do when visiting a veteranVisiting a stranger can feel awkward at first. But don't let that stop you. To help you overcome the awkwardness, here are some suggestions of topics to discuss and questions you can ask:

  • What were Christmases like when you were growing up?
  • What is one of your favorite Christmas memories?
  • How did you celebrate when you were in the service?
  • What is one of your favorite memories from your time in service?
  • Why did you decide to serve?
  • What was your job when you were in the military?
  • Did any of your other family members serve, too?
  • Why did you choose the branch you served in?

If a veteran chooses not to answer one of your questions, don't push. Respect their decision and move on. But if they choose to respond, make sure you listen and show kindness and empathy for their experiences. Engage with them and enjoy your conversation together.

Also, when you visit, you can bring gifts, though it might be a good idea to check with the staff beforehand to learn about any allergies or other restrictions. But in many cases, a nice Christmas treat—like cookies, brownies, or homemade Christmas candies—can be a good way to break the ice.

Non-food items can also be a great way to show your appreciation. A knitted lap blanket, a stocking filled with goodies, or even a wreath to hang on their door can help them feel more festive.

Even just a thoughtful card, with a handwritten note, can go a long way.

Or, if you bring your family, many veterans would enjoy hearing a Christmas carol or two.

2. "Adopt" a Veteran

Two children hug a veteran they've If you want to adopt a veteran or military family during the holidays, you can either go through an official organization or find one all on your own.

Adopting them could mean quite a few things, from dropping off gifts to inviting them into your home for Christmas dinner, and everything in between. It can be done anonymously or you can choose to engage with them more directly.

No matter how you do it, adopting a veteran, servicemember, or military family during the holidays can help them feel remembered and appreciated.

How to Find Someone to Adopt

There are a variety of organizations that have organized official "Adopt-a-Veteran" programs. These include:

Just a note, but some of these programs are already closed for 2019. But you can always start planning ahead for next Christmas! It's a good idea to apply to adopt a family early if you want to go through an organization's program.

Even if you can't help a family this year using one of the above programs, you may still be able to adopt a single servicemember or family by contacting the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) office for your nearest military facility.

The easiest way to do so is to Google the name of the military facility plus the term "MWR office." So, for example, if you live near Ft. Campbell, you'd Google "Fort Campbell MWR office." That should bring you to their official MWR website, and from there you can click on their Contact Us page.

You can also contact  your local branch of the Armed Service YMCA or a local USO location.

3. Organize a Fundraiser

A woman stands in front of a fundraiser she's organized Another way to help veterans is by putting together a fundraiser where you donate all of the proceeds to a worthy organization that serves our military.

Fundraiser Ideas

Depending on your skill set, some types of fundraisers may work better for you than others. But to get you started, here are some suggestions you can research or try:

  • Christmas candygram
  • Holiday bake sale
  • Paid photos with Santa
  • Clothing drive
  • Toy drive
  • Silent auction
  • FB auction
  • Benefit concert
  • Raffle
  • Ticketed dinner
  • Garage/rummage sale
  • T-shirt sale
  • Penny drive

Once you know what fundraiser you want to do, you should decide early which organization you will donate to. Depending on the type of fundraiser you choose, you will end up either donating money raised or goods collected (clothing & toy drives, for example).

Where to Donate

While there are many good veteran and military focused charities out there, you want to make sure where you donate is truly giving the bulk of it back to veterans and their families.

Instead of just listing a group of charities, we want to provide four tips that will help you pick the one that's most right for you: Graphic giving an overview of how to pick a military charity

  1. Let your type of donation guide you

    If your fundraiser will be collecting toys, clothing, or other goods, for example, you will need to find a military organization that accepts these types of donations

    Examples: Operation Homefront, Purple Heart Pickup, Paralyzed Veterans of America's G.I.V.E., and more.

  1. Decide what matters most to you

    There are almost innumerable causes related to our veterans, servicemembers, and their families. And sadly, you won't be able to donate to them all.

    So, in order to pick, you must first decide which specific cause is closest to your heart.

    Examples: Is it wounded veterans? Helping servicemembers transitioning into civilian life? VA healthcare? Providing service animals to veterans with PTSD?

  1. Research trusted organizations

    There are a lot of lists available online that name their top veteran-focused organizations. These have typically been well-researched to make sure they use donations wisely. You can search for these lists by googling variations of "list of good charities that serve veterans," etc.

    You can also research organizations for yourself to see how much money they actually put towards the cause they claim to support. Some of the free examples of these research tools are listed below.

    Examples: Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and Charity Watch.

  1. Follow up after you donate

    One of the most important steps is to follow up with the organization after you donate. This follow-up should occur about 6 months to a year after you donate, though you could do it as soon as one month.

    Even if they can't tell you exactly how your donation was used, they should be able to give you a general idea of what they've accomplished in the time since your donation. If they struggle for an answer, you might want to consider donating to a different charity next time.

4. Donate Wishlist Items

A woman puts donation items in a box Even if you don't want to run a full-blown fundraiser, you can still donate a variety of goods to different organizations.

Many groups put together lists this time of year that detail the items most needed by servicemembers, military families, and veterans. For example, each year the United Service Organizations (USO) publishes an online wishlist of items that you can browse and then purchase from.

You can also contact local veterans homes or hospitals to see if they have a donation list. Even if you don't have time for a visit, you can always help them out by donating items they desperately need.

5. Volunteer Your Time

A woman helps a disabled veteran out of her car after driving him to an appointment If you don't have a lot of extra money this holiday season, there is still something you can give, and it may be the most precious gift of all: your time.

Many charities are completely volunteer-run, and without people giving them the gift of time, especially during this busy holiday season, they can't accomplish their goals or serve our heroes who deserve it the most.

Organizations You Can Volunteer With

While we could never list all of the worthy organizations that need your efforts, here is a small list to help you get started:

  • Soldiers' Angels – There are a variety of ways to volunteer with this group. Two of their most popular programs include their Adopt-a-Family and Angel Bakers programs. However, they have many other programs you can volunteer with as well.
  • Wreaths Across America – Each year, Wreaths Across America lays thousands of Christmas wreaths on the graves of veterans. One day in December is designated as "Wreaths Across America Day." In over 2,100 locations, volunteers gather to lay the wreaths, and you could be one of them.
  • Fisher House – This charity provides housing for military members and their families while a loved one is receiving medical treatment. Around the holidays, they often have volunteers help decorate the homes as well as provide other services.
  • Disabled American Veterans (DAV) – Even though it's not a Christmas-centric charity, DAV is always looking for volunteers to help transport veterans to doctors appointments. Just because it's the holidays doesn't mean these appointments stop. But it may mean they struggle for volunteers.
  • VA Voluntary Service – You can also work directly as a volunteer for the VA. By volunteering, you save the VA money that can then be used in more critical areas to help our veterans. In the 2019 fiscal year, volunteers helped the VA saved over $332 million!

Why Low VA Rates Cares

At Low VA Rates, it's our mission to help veterans and their families. Though our specific focus is on helping them get an affordable home loan, we also want to help where we can in other areas. It's not just about the bottom line for us?—it's truly about serving them.

If we can use our platform to reach people and encourage them to become more active in giving back to our servicemen and women, then we have an obligation to do it.

But for that, we need your help! Comment below to let us know if we missed talking about your favorite way to serve veterans during the holiday season. Or if we forgot to mention one of your favorite military-focused charities where you like to donate or volunteer, we'd love to know that as well.