The Gift of Giving Back

The Gift of Giving Back

Laetitia Haddad

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — for most of us. Festivities abound in the peppermint-frosted air, the jazzy tones of Christmas swing and serenade, the trees sparkle in tinsel and twinkling stars, and presents wrapped with love lie beneath them. We toil over wish lists, picking out the perfect gift to be opened in a bright paper flourish on that beautiful morning. And yet, how often do we think about giving back? 

Within our school community, of 46 students and faculty surveyed, 74% state that they volunteer during the Holiday season. Over half of those who serve often help out with toy drives and also spend time volunteering at soup kitchens serving hot meals. 

Freshman Emmie Vadja remarks that, “last year during the holiday season, a group of friends and I went to Safeway and sang Christmas carols with food donation boxes. We got over 400 pounds of food for the hungry and 100 dollars in donations.” In Alexandria, ALIVE!, Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically, is an organization that works to combat food insecurity. During November, they run an event that delivers Thanksgiving meals to those in need. 

Sometimes, it is not products themselves but the presence of volunteers with those in need that spreads the most happiness. Lizzie Sherman, a sophomore, says that, “Every year I go with a group of my friends, my sister, and her friends to sing Christmas carols to the residents at the Sunrise Retirement Home. It always brings lots of joy and cheer to the residents there and they often begin to sing along.” With a branch in Alexandria, The Holiday Project sets up visiting days for patients in hospitals and retirement homes. Volunteers can spend time with those who may otherwise be alone for the Holidays. 

In the Alexandria area alone, there are an abundance of opportunities to serve the community. A quick google search will pull up a plethora of volunteer activities, from organizing toy drives, to distributing hot meals, to visiting patients in hospitals. Another organization that facilitates many service activities is Christ Church, an Episcopalian establishment with number of Outreach programs and various Ministries to aid those affected by poverty, lack of education, malnourishment, and homelessness. 

Service to appease obvious needs with products or meals are necessary; and yet Ms. Raman, Director of Service Learning and Social Entrepreneurship, points out the often overlooked need for “spaces to hold community… to bring people together from all different backgrounds.” Ms. Raman explains that her family, immigrants themselves, often think of those “who don’t get to spend the Holidays with their family because they might be far away… we oftentimes take this break, and we say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad it’s Christmas’... and for some people, it’s the hardest time of the year because that’s when you notice you’re alone.”

Within her family, Emmie remarks that “during the Christmas season… we all vote on a charity to donate to, and we all put in money to donate to that charity.” 

Though the Holiday season is a time during which many chose to volunteer, these issues persist throughout the year in every season. HuffPost notes that many nonprofits see a spike in volunteers from November to December, some even having to implement waitlists. Unfortunately, this enthusiasm to serve is inconsistent, and many of these same nonprofits are understaffed during other months, especially during the summer. 

Despite this, Ms. Raman understands why so many people volunteer during this time of the year, as “we are called to remind ourselves what we are grateful for… this is a time for spreading joy and love, and celebrating the fullness of what this year has brought and we’re about to start into this new cycle of the New Year.”

“The Holidays are a time to turn outwards and say, okay, how can we give back all that goodness that has been given to us.”

Ms. Raman goes on to explain that it is important to make time to serve during the Holiday season, and notes that, “it’s not always the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a reminder of what we have and don’t have, as well. So, how can we use our gifts to spread more joy?” 

At the Upper School, a number of clubs are working to serve during the holiday season. For instance, the Baking Club hosted a pie sale to raise funds for Saintsgiving, an opportunity for the entire school community to come together on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year, activities included compiling Community Care Packages for low-income students in surrounding Alexandria public schools. Also, a walk was held to raise funds for our sister school in Haiti, St. Paul’s. As festivities ultimately draw to a close, it is important to sustain this spirit of volunteerism, and work to bring joy to all the people, during all the seasons. 


That’s something that my family and I always take on, the thought of who doesn’t get to spend the Holidays with their family because they might be far away… we oftentimes take this break, and we say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so glad it’s Christmas’... and for some people, it’s the hardest time of the year because that’s when you notice you’re alone. Holding space for others, in a small or bigger way, is a great service to do.” 


“There is a need for spaces to hold community, to bring people together from all different backgrounds, especially abroad.”


Giving back to the community during Christmas Time. 


Holiday spirit can be used to benefit others. 



Ms. Dyson

Ms. Raman

Rev. Farrington

Madame Scott


Interview Questions: 

  1. What are some opportunities to volunteer in the Alexandria area during Christmastime?

    1. Christchurch - ministries

      1. Refugee holiday party, faculty involvement

      2. Pop up grocery store during christmas time 

    2. ALive food distribution and women in domestic abuse situations, preschool for children of immigrants 

      1. Distribute food through the food bank 

    3. Mother of Light: serves the homeless (360 degree service)

      1. Not just food and shelter: legal council and job support, social services

      2. Shelter, hand out sandwiches 

      3. Work with alive 

    4. Social workers in alexandria city public schools do campaigns to support those in need

      1. Necessities of food and hygiene products

      2. Also toys, things that can bring joy 

      3. Episcopal high school does work with james k. Polk and cora kelly to do toy drives. 

      4. Social workers reach out to us, too. 

    5. Beyond basic need support: need for spaces to hold community and bring people together from all different backgrounds

      1. Places of faith are active here

      2. Sense of family for those without family (christ church refugee ministry)

      3. Thinking about who doesn’t get to spend the holidays with their family. 

      4. For some people, its a sad time because you realize that you are alone. 

  2. do you have any memorable stories with any serving with organizations during the holiday?


  3. In your opinion, why is it especially important to serve during the holidays? 

    1. The biggest reason is that we are called to remind ourselves what we are grateful for at this time of the year

    2. Time to spread joy and love and celebrating the fullness of what this year

    3. Turn that outwards and give back the goodness. 

    4. More time, a break!

  4. Does your family have any traditions regarding giving back to the community during the Holiday Season?

    1. Holding space for those whose families are abroad. 

    2. Both parents are immigrants

    3. Always have others over to share meals, giving what you could. 

    4. They were the receiver of service at the beginning, so they reciprocated. 

  5. In your opinion, are there any volunteer programs missing from the Alexandria area that would benefit those in need? 

  6. How could our school community get more involved in Christmastime service?

    1. Look inwardly and with gratitude at what we have

    2. We have food and we have people who support us

      1. From there: think about what is a gift to offer this world? How can you bring more joy. 

    3. Small acts. 

    4. Bigger ways: could you make a choice? Instead of asking for a gift, can you contribute this gift to this cause? 

    5. Shifting into the new year: spirit of service. 



  1. Do you volunteer during the holiday season (November - December)?

  2. What do you usually do?

    1. Help at a soup kitchen

    2. Visit patients in hospitals

    3. Participate in food and toy drives

    4. Sort and distribute food or toys

  3. Does your family have any 

    1. If so, explain!