Five easy ways to give back this Christmas

After a few nights of armchair shopping for gifts online (and one stressful evening after work running around the shops then swearing never again... again), I'm feeling uncharacteristically organised this Christmas. But with December arriving in a lovely flurry of festive catch-ups with friends and family, I can't help but think about the people and animals who have more to worry about this month than their overdraft taking a hit. For everyone else who's feeling fortunate and would like to give back, I've rounded up five easy ways to be charitable this Christmas (and all year round):

For many individuals and families living with domestic abuse, concern for their pet is an obstacle which stops them from leaving - either because their new home doesn't allow pets, or they're worried about what will happen if they leave them behind. The Dogs Trust's Freedom Project is a dog fostering service for people who are fleeing domestic abuse in Greater London, Hertfordshire, Essex and Yorkshire. Dogs Trust places dogs into the safe homes of volunteer foster carers for up to 6 months, until their owners are rehoused and can take them back. Dogs Trust covers all of the dog's expenses during that time, including food and veterinary costs.

If you're interested in fostering a dog but don't live in those areas, The Cinnamon Trust is a nationwide charity which provides short term care for animals belonging to elderly people going into hospital or residential accommodation, and long term care for pets whose owners have died or are terminally ill, while Pet Fostering Service Scotland provides a short term emergency care service for pet owners who are temporarily unable to care for their pet because of an accident or illness.

The Letterbox Club is an initiative ran by the Book Trust to deliver a colourful parcel of books, maths games and stationery to children who are looked-after once every month for six months, from May to October. Across the UK, local authorities and schools can enrol children who they think would benefit. For many children, it's the first time they've had a letter or parcel through the post and for some it's the first time they've had books of their own.

This year the Book Trust want to surprise the 9,700 children who are enrolled with the Letterbox Club with a special book gift which they won't be expecting. By donating £10 you can send a surprise book to a child to make them feel special this Christmas. The Book Trust have selected six hardback books for children aged 3-13 years old, and each child will also receive a specially-created festive poster and postcard by illustrator Adam Stower.

Christmas and New Year can be a particularly difficult time of year for many people, with the Samaritans taking nearly 200,000 calls for help over the festive period. With around the clock support available every single day of the year, the Samaritans rely almost entirely on voluntary donations to run their helpline. If you're patient and open-minded, you can also volunteer as a listener for people who reach out by phone, email or letter for help.

The statistics on older people and loneliness are devastating, with a recent UK survey revealing that a million older people have not spoken to anyone in the last month. Contact the Elderly is a charity which aims to combat isolation among elderly people by organising monthly Sunday afternoon tea parties for small groups of older people aged 75 and over, offering a change of scenery and regular afternoons of conversation and laughter with friends.

You can volunteer to join one of the 670 groups across Scotland, England and Wales as a host, driver or coordinator. If you know someone 75 or older who you think would benefit from joining, you can refer them through the Contact the Elderly website.

If you can't volunteer or refer someone but would still like to help, Cath Kidston have teamed up with Contact the Elderly this year to launch a beautiful set of Christmas cards, with £2 from each pack sold going straight back to the charity. 

For many homeless people, a dog can provide an essential source of comfort and companionship, but food and vet bills can be a stressful and unmanageable expense for an already vulnerable person. To support homeless people and their pets, the Trusty Paws Clinic provides free essential veterinary care with once a month drop-in clinics.

Carried out by vet students, under the supervision of a qualified vet, the clinics provide: vaccinations; mirochipping; flea and worming treatment; dog food, blankets, toys and other supplies; and referral for advanced veterinary care. To help support the Trusty Paws Clinic, you make a donation through their website, or donate dried dog food to one of their clinics in Glasgow, London or Liverpool.

I hope that's given you some inspiration on how you can help this Christmas! For more ideas (including a couple of really easy-peasy ones), check out last year's post.
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