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How to Make a Difference (no money or passport required!)

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Yesterday, I told you about our #TenDollarTribe initiative and encouraged those of you who had the wiggle room in your budget and felt the nudge in your heart to join us in this project to make a difference in South Africa.

A few people left comments bothered by the fact that I would encourage people to give money to a cause outside of the U.S.

Truth be told: I fully anticipated a little push back like this.

I don’t expect that everyone will jump on board with everything I’m excited about, nor do I assume that everyone is called to give outside the U.S.

And that’s the beauty of giving spirits. We aren’t all passionate about the same causes. We aren’t all supposed to invest in the same projects.

But we should all invest in something and in someone in some place — whether that’s in Haiti or New Hampshire or Africa or Arkansas. Whether that’s in your own home, down the street, across the country, or around the world.

We ALL have something to offer, something to give, and someone in our life who needs what we have to offer and give.

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A few weeks ago, when I took a big leap out of my comfort zone, got on an 18-hour flight, and went to South Africa, many of you emailed in, commented, or told me personally that you wished you could have gone with me.

Some of you talked about how you wish you could make an impact, take a mission trip, or do something bold and brave like that.

While I think going on an international trip can be eye-opening and insightful, the thing is: You don’t need to go to South Africa to make a difference, have an impact, or be bold and brave.

Look around you and you’ll see many needs. You can’t meet them all. You aren’t supposed to meet them all.

But you can do what you can, with what you have, where you are. You can take what time and energy and skills you have and use them to bless someone in some way.

Here Are a Few Practical Ideas:

  • Donate books to your local library, schools, or members in your community.
  • If you are a coupon queen and have built a stockpile of toiletries, household products, or cleaning items, donate them to a family in need in your neighborhood or to a local shelter.
  • Volunteer in your community. Whether that’s in the local soup kitchen, hospital, church, school, or charitable organization. {Visit to find opportunities near you.}
  • Shop sales and clearance racks for significantly marked down merchandise you can donate to local families or organizations.
  • Pick up prescriptions for elderly neighbors or ask them if they need someone to drive them to doctor’s appointment or help with errands.
  • Mow the lawn/weed the yard of a neighbor working multiple jobs.
  • Supply freezer meals to a mother who just had a baby, a family who lost a loved one, or a neighbor who is sick.
  • Donate your talents. For instance, if your hobby is photography, offer a financially struggling family a photo shoot.
  • If you have a passion to sew or knit, make sweaters or scarves for a local shelter or hospital.
  • Clean the house or do laundry for someone who is sick.
  • Send a handwritten card to someone who is going through a difficult time.
  • Smile and look for opportunities to encourage others with your words.
  • Participate in the Blessings in a Backpack program to provide food for needy children in your local schools
  • Make bags of food and hygiene products for the homeless.

How to Make a Difference

Making a difference is going to look different to each and every person. We all have unique gifts, talents, abilities, and passions. We all have different capacities and callings.

But don’t let that hold you back from doing something. The world needs your gifts, your talents, and your willingness to start somewhere, step outside your comfort zone, and do something.

What creative ways are you reaching out and serving in your own community? I’d love to hear!

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  • Anon says:

    I didn’t donate to this cause but was inspired to donate to a local charity since we have a little wiggle room in the budget 🙂

  • eva says:

    I love your ideas! I recently read a book by Lorie Newman called A Cup Of Cold Water in His Name and it has 60 ideas on how to serve from the simple to the complex it is a WONDERFUL book!

  • When we decided to leave the US and be missionaries to train youth workers around the world people said why – there are pleanty of kids in the US that need a Youth Pastor. We told them that 97% of the worlds trained youth pastors live and work in the US where only 3% of the worlds youth population live. We are called to minister to all nations.
    I think what you offered is a very easy way for people to help others.

    • Angela says:

      It’s hard for people living in America to make the connection that even though there is need, there are plenty of people and churches to help out. We work overseas as well and am always astonished by the push back we get about not staying in America where there is so much need. Mostly no one has actually done the math or traveled too much. 😉

      • doris says:

        Sadly, most of the United States doesn’t WANT the gospel. So, to those of you who go to the “uttermost and preach the gospel” — PRAISE THE LORD! Keep running the race!

      • Megan says:

        Exactly! We should still promote policies and programs that support the economically disadvantaged in the US, but when it comes down to dollars and cents (at least with regard to physical poverty) the needs in the developing world are much greater.

    • I agree with you! Here in the US there are so many churches, so many believers, so many books on Christianity, so many Bibles, there are still 2,500 people groups with no church. There are people with no Bible in their language.

  • Michele says:

    I participate in a program called Freezing Nights. From November to March, churches in the community take turns every night housing and feeding the homeless. I found a church near my work that participates and help cook breakfast before work every Monday.

  • marty says:

    First I have to say thanks for restoring my faith in humanity just one more day! I love your ideas they are wonderful for people who may not have much of thier own but still want to give to their fellow man

  • cwaltz says:

    When we did not have much we were unable to give much but I did give my time. I had an elderly neighbor that I helped and another neighbor who was struggling who I would try to help in little ways. The year before last my husband was left a bit of an inheritance since then I have tried to find a cause to give to monthly. It’s been everything from a shelter for animals to our local community action group. I’ve been sick recently so some of our resources have been tied up but as soon as I am able I’ll continue to find ways to help. I recently was reading a book and this stood out to me. “Ask for help when you need it, and give it when you can- That is how we serve God.” The book was fiction but the statement felt like a truth wrapped in a story.

  • Vickie says:

    I love this article because I too struggled with the thoughts of going outside of our very needy community. After reading though about South Africa in your article though my heart has opened up and I realize that we need to touch the world. You are so lucky that you are able to do that Crystal and thanks for giving us the way to help that is doable for most of us.

  • My mother would always pack note cards with me when I went abroad to mission trips, or to travel, which read, “Just don’t people watch. Learn something, and bring part of that spirit home with you.” It was her way of helping me understand that a spirit of giving was both unilateral, and beneficial to my life.

    While I strongly feel that generosity should always start at home, I don’t feel it should remain cloistered there! For me, it does bother me that many others are more than willing to open their checkbooks for causes abroad, and wouldn’t think twice about those in their own communities. I also secretly hope that others who support abroad works do so, because they are already donating locally in secret; perhaps to avoid embarrassing or bringing attention to their own works at home. I think of giving like anything else in life… if you like it, I love it!

    As a family, we donate to several local causes, and this year my family is pledging a quarter of our couponed goods to a local women’s shelter and soup kitchen, too!

    I give because I firmly believe that our good works are the rent we pay to God, for the opportunity work and serve in his world. Personally, I am passionate about is It’s an international organization that helps give people a hand-up in life, based on small micro-loans, comprised of mini-loans from hundred of people from all walks of life. Loans are used to start family businesses, while allows those receiving loans, in turn to hire others in their communities, repay loans, and then themselves sponsor loans for others; the program has over a 98% repayment rate. The notion that giving someone a loan for as little as a one-time $10.00, paired with the generosity of others, can help to make the difference between abject poverty and a chance for a purposeful existence is priceless.

  • Kim says:

    Great ideas! I’d also add to ASK someone what you can do to help them, & then do it (if you can). Tell him/her that you’d really like to help. You don’t necessarily have to spend money. Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?”

    If you hear a friend or neighbor listing things they need to do & that person is sounding overwhelmed, tell them you want to help. ie. Say, “What can I do to help you?” If he/she doesn’t have a response, you can say, “I can come over at such & such a time & help you with your list” or “I have 2 hours (or more if possible) on Tuesday I can come help you. What time is good for you?” “I can run the vacuum, fold laundry, do the dishes,” whatever they’ve listed. It’s okay to say, “I don’t have the finances right now, but if you provide the ingredients, I’ll help you make freezer meals (this is great for someone on a special diet).

  • JOYce says:

    The desires of the heart God gives each of us can be similar ~ yet oft cheerful-heart stewardship following His scope and sequence is very individual, quiet. It should be about what He is doing in and through us unto others and not simply flowing externally as if of a herd mentality, as Crystal reflects. 🙂

  • Elizabeth says:

    Perhaps the one thing I’ve done that has made me the happiest is donating a flute to a student at my sister’s school (she works at an inter city school). The light in this girl’s eyes was spectacular and when I thought of all of the places music took me, I was beyond excited to help her along that journey.

  • Gil says:

    One of the most gratifying ways I’ve found to reach out to others is to talk with homeless people.

    Many people walk on by without giving a dollar, let alone a smile or a “Hi, I’m ___, what’s your name?” As if they weren’t even there.

    When you engage someone in regular conversation, you affirm their dignity as a human being. It seems small but can make a huge difference in someone’s day.

  • Anonymous says:

    If I live in the US then I live in a nation of “haves”. Whether I have lots of wiggle room in my budget or very little, I am richer monetarily and materially than the rest of the world, with resources and freedoms available to me that do not exist elsewhere. God calls me to respond to His greatest gift, His Son, and because I love Him, I answer. I answer within my family, my neighborhood and community, across the nation and around the world. God wants my money AND He wants my willingness and my effort and my heart. It is not up to me to be successful; it is up to me to open myself to Him and respond – HE will determine the outcome.
    Crystal, you would not be involved in this undertaking had you not considered, researched, planned and PRAYED about it. Who knows the difference that may be made in the lives of individuals and families and whole villages in South Africa and here!
    One way my husband and I have tried to make a difference with someone is encouraging a young mother who dropped out of high school. Twice a week I went to her home, met the school bus, helped with homework with her child, prepared supper, and helped with her homework so she could get her GED. It took a few years, as she was working and various obstacles arose, but she did it!
    Many times it is a note or a jar of soup that encourages a person in ways we may never know. We have also stayed with little ones so parents could attend meetings that they needed to.
    Crystal, keep up the good work! I appreciated your 50 shades of frustration post (could go on and on about our spiral downward in this country, but won’t!). May God continue to bless you and your sweet family!

  • Kathryn says:

    I love what you said about how we all have different callings or interests with our generosity. When I have wiggle room I give to widows/orphans/single Moms either in my immediate community or as close as possible. That’s how *I* give. Thankful there are people all over with all kinds of generous hearts to show Jesus to the world! (Or the neighbors!)

  • Joanne Peterson says:

    We are just plain called to serve wherever Jesus calls us to serve, with resources, with time and talent, with prayer. It is not an either or situation because Jesus has a heart for all needs, and He owns all of the resources, including ourselves. So one cause is not more worthy than another, but we also can make ourselves more aware of the needs physically, spiritually, emotionally, and ask Jesus how we can be involved. He’ll let you know. I can’t and don’t get involved, in everything, but I know without a doubt where I am to be involved. We support locally, overseas native missionaries, and children overseas monthly because Jesus let us know we are to do this. We are not wealthy people by first world standards, but by the rest of the world, we are. And are grateful.

    Sorry, don’t mean to speak to the choir. But, this is a passion of mine.

  • Corinne says:

    Such an excellent post! I love your attitude that “this particular opportunity may not call everyone, but everyone is called to do something somewhere for someone”. You said it so well–both the words and the spirit of it. Thank you1

  • Blair says:

    I donate blood. I encourage everyone to do so. You can designate your donation to a church or to a specific person who has required extensive transfusions to help them receive credit. When my dad was sick with cancer, he received blood transfusions and they were the only thing that helped him feel better; therefore, it is very personal to me. When I am donating, I pray for the people who will receive the blood whether it be a patient or a scientist.

  • Steve Kobrin says:

    I appreciate the dilemma. On the one hand, it is important to do good deeds wherever you are because each one does indeed improve the world. At the same time, to get the best best impact you have to start local and branch outward. Our biggest sphere of influence is within our own community.

    I have become active in my own neighborhood through a Block Watch. I have also volunteered for CERT, our Community Emergency Response Team that supports the Office of Emergency Management.

    Do you have any experience with these groups?

  • cheryl s says:

    Adoptive families always need help! International adoption costs are enormous and every child, no matter where they are in the world, needs and deserves a forever family. Donate high quality items to an adoptive family’s garage sale, fundraise for them, give money to their adoption, pray for the family and their new child/ren. Every dollar makes a difference and is appreciated more than you know.

  • Christine says:

    Add “become a foster parent, court appointed special advocate (CASA), or a community advocate for children, elderly, military or disabled.”

    I cannot agree more with Crystal’s challenge to get outside your comfort zone. Jesus knew and trusted God that he would provide for our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-34, 14:13-21). Therefore he was free to follow God’s commands which included loving, touching, healing and praying over the marginalized.

    The need for donations is great and absolutely necessary. I don’t disrespect that but I am keenly aware it requires no sacrifice and absolves many of us from emotionally investing in others. I encourage you to step out; make a personal connection with a bros. or sister in need. Do not dismiss or under value the power of holding a hand, providing a should to cry on, looking someone in the eye and acknowledging their value.

  • Guest says:

    One of my all-time favorite posts of yours and I’ve been reading pretty much since the beginning. 🙂

    I love what you said about being called because I believe God lays HIS calling on our hearts. The beauty there is that He knows what is needed and knows that not everyone needs to be working on the same things!

    A few other ideas for those who maybe don’t have money to offer:
    – Volunteer to teach English in local ESL programs. These families WANT to learn English to integrate into our communities and care for their families. Help them out – you don’t have to be a teacher!
    – Take dinner to a friend or a senior in the community. It doesn’t have to be expensive. A pot of spaghetti is inexpensive, filling and a blessing to those who have experienced loss or are experiencing health problems.
    – If you love pets as much as we do, donate towels, old sheets, etc. to your local animal shelter. The dogs and cats will appreciate the extra bedding! If you don’t have those items to donate, spend an hour walking the dogs or playing in the outdoor areas with them.
    – Volunteer at your local library. Help shelve books, etc.
    – If a neighbor is having challenges, mow their lawn for them.
    – Call someone who is struggling and ask if you can come visit for a little while. We’ve recently experienced a heartbreaking loss and two of my friends came by, cried with me, laughed with me and reminded me that there’s still an awful lot of life to be lived.
    – Volunteer at a nursing home. The ladies love to have their nails painted. If you’re musically gifted, play piano or sing for them.

    So many more ideas but those are just a few! If all of us reach out, it isn’t impossible to think we can touch and help our entire communities and those around the world.

  • Kerri says:

    That was very well said Crystal, and a nice message. It’s easy to be critical of others’ choices. Your challenge to give, be involved and do what you are comfortable strikes a cord with me. I have two girls, ages 7 & 9 and we tend to donate in areas they relate to; Toys for Tots at Christmas, choosing children’s names from the church Giving Tree to buy Christmas gifts for, donating books to the library, donating party goods to Birthday Wishes.

  • Natalie says:

    This is SUCH and excellent post!!! Serve where you can, period. There are so many needs around us, and I LOVE that you pointed out we don’t need to spend a lot because many of us don’t have that.

  • Molly says:

    Well, today I shared time with a mom whose husband works long hours. We hung out, drank coffee, and she loved on my dog while I got to love on her little girl and give her arms a break. 🙂

  • Rhoda says:

    Though I am saddened to hear how some chose to respond to your initial post on helping in South Africa, I am not surprised. My husband started a school in India before coming to the USA and there are also church planting and VBS ministry’s tied in. For several years whenever we traveled anywhere we would share the opportunities and needs in order to raise funds (like missionaries on deputation) for the many needs associated with these ministries. Though a few individuals joined in, the “sell” (for lack of a better word) was tough. And that is the crux of it–it isn’t a sell. Either hearts are receptive or they are not. We are thankful for the many lessons we learned through those years of how the Lord is faithful. It is He we must rely on, not the goodness and generosity of man. The ministries still continue whether or not the funds come in. God continues to work and amaze us as to how He provides over and above what we could ask or think. Though unable to monetarily help (our spare funds go to India), I still look forward to your posts on what is happening in South Africa. I may not be able to give, but I can pray. That, we found as we traveled, was the biggest help we could get–people praying. Thank you for what you are doing and that you have the platform and ability to share the needs with others thus making a difference.

  • Steph says:

    I recently got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have a 9yo son and we are now paired with a 9yo girl in a neighboring small town who needs some extra attention. It has been a wonderful experience. You don’t have to just be a single person, you can now be a Big Family or a Big Couple as well and include your family in your connection with a young person. It has brought so much to our lives and we go on outings we would do anyway, so the cost is not that much more.

  • Tina says:

    My sister and her husband are currently on a missions trip in Romania. I love seeing all the video and pictures from her trip. I was so glad we donated to her cause!
    Recently, we started purging everything.. clothes, books, toys. You never realize how much unnecessary stuff you have lying around until you start to organize and clean. A stack of books went to a local daycare and the rest of the books, clothes and all the toys will go to a food pantry.
    I made a comment on a forum about a difficult thing I was dealing with, not realizing my friends could see it, and one of my friends took the time to message me and talk with me about it. I was so grateful!

  • Theresa L says:

    What a great post. I always tell my kids that “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

    We always donate our clothes and household items or give them to people we know can use them. I recently felt led to start a prayer group through Moms in Prayer to pray for our kids and their schools. It’s just starting, so any prayers you can remember for us would be appreciated! Thank you!

  • MaryEllen says:

    Wow, Crystal! That’s awesome that instead of getting upset that people aren’t jumping up and down about this cause, you’re turning it into an action plan for people to help lots of other worthy causes!

  • This post is so wonderful!!! I always have said that I don’t care what others are passionate about, as long as they are passionate about SOMETHING! I love so much to see people using their gifts and passions to help make the world a better place, in every kind of capacity. I actually blogged today about a woman who is using her gifts of cooking, scrapbooking and walking (so simple!) to be a light in the world, and especially for my own family:
    One thing really stands out in my mind…. 2 years ago, the director of a nonprofit here in town simply mentioned to my best friend’s mom that their funding was cut and they could no longer supply toilet paper to their clients. That was all it took for my group of friends to rally together and plan a huge, fun social event where we raised more than $3,000 cash and collected more than SIX THOUSAND rolls of toilet paper!! We are now in the planning stages of our second “TP the Town” 🙂
    There are experiences like this that continue to happen – putting together “birthday bags” so kids at the homeless shelter can have a birthday party… collecting items for “care packs” for low-income kids at a local after school program… and we’re making dinner in a couple of weeks for the residents of a local women’s shelter.
    These are all things that have really been SO EASY, especially when you get a group of friends together! Sometimes we as moms who are in the depths of raising little ones feel like we can’t make a big difference because our kids’ needs are so demanding. But together, we are a force, and together we can each take a very small job or task and turn it into a huge difference in the lives of others!

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