Photo by Jake Hines Volunteers register people waiting in line for United Food Bank's weekly food distribution at the Mesa Convention Center on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. United Food Bank and other food banks around the state have seen demand skyrocket amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo by Jake Hines

Many families may not be able to buy their children Christmas gifts this year. 

This year has been incredibly tough on many Arizonans’ health and finances. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about not only sickness and death, but in many cases, job loss. 

As of November, more than 280,000 Arizonans were unemployed. Many who do still have a job have seen reduced hours, leading to decreased income. 

Relief from the government has been spotty. During the summer, the federal government offered a $600 weekly boost, but it ended in July. President Donald Trump pushed forward a $300 weekly payment for several weeks after that, but since September Arizonans have had to rely on the state’s maximum of $240 per week in assistance.

Congress passed a new relief bill Monday night that will include 11 weeks of $300 weekly payments, starting Dec. 26. However, it does not appear to be retroactive, meaning no payments will be given for previous weeks with no federal boost. 

If you’re in a position to give time or money, here are some ways to help people who could use some extra resources this holiday season. 

Make a Food Donation

Food banks are in great need this time of year. A spokesperson for St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix told 12 News it is serving around 800 families per day right now. And the Thanksgiving meals distributed by United Food Bank in Mesa were up by nearly 400% from last year.

Find your closest food bank and information about how to donate here. Some grocery stores also make it easy to donate to food banks either by having drop-off boxes upfront or by offering pre-packaged donation bundles for purchase at check-out. 

You can also step up to send meals to essential workers who can’t be home on the holiday. Contact a local hospital, fire station, or other facilities and ask if they accept meals. Then, order the food and have it delivered there. 

Leaving out snacks, drinks, or other gifts for delivery drivers is another good way to make someone’s day during their busiest time of year. 

If you’d like to make a food donation more long-term, you can sponsor a family in need with a monthly grocery box through Family-to-Family.

Buy Some Toys

Winter budgets are usually tight due to gifts, decorations, big meals, and other expenses. For some families, that means foregoing toys for their kids. 

This year, Toys for Tots branches around the country have seen fewer donations than normal. And a Navajo Nation toy fundraiser is reporting the same—organizer Jonathan Yazzie told ABC 15 he’s only received 100 toys so far when usually he would have 4,000. 

You can either send money or donations to a local fundraiser or contribute gifts through Donate a Toy. The organization, which partnered with Toys for Tots this year, matches each toy donated. 

Contribute Funds to Those in Need

Money saved from not traveling, buying as much food, or decorating as much can be channeled into helping others.  

To help Arizonans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, you can donate to the Arizona Coronavirus Relief Fund. The money goes to nonprofits that distribute protective equipment, connect students with technology, aid people experiencing homelessness and domestic violence, and other causes. 

You can also search the Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits’ directory to find a cause you align with or consider mutual aid networks like Leveler.info and virtual tip jars that help laid-off individuals directly. 

Volunteer Your Time

Want to help but don’t have much to spare? You can always donate your time. 

One idea is to write and send thank-you notes to healthcare workers, first responders, people isolated in nursing homes, and others impacted by the pandemic. 

Because people are more likely to be spending time apart this year, it’s also a good idea to connect—by video call, phone, text, letter, or whatever medium works for you—with anyone living alone or isolated due to high COVID-19 risk. 

While volunteering is traditionally seen as an in-person activity, there are still ways to make an impact digitally.Try editing photos for a nonprofit, providing language skills, or supporting a crisis text line. 

If you feel comfortable volunteering in person, check with local soup kitchens or Meals on Wheels to see if you can help distribute food. While you may not be able to do so over the holidays, you can schedule a time to donate blood

And remember—choosing to have a safe Christmas is good work in itself. By social distancing, wearing masks, and following other US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, you are not only protecting yourself from the virus but your community members and loved ones, too.