Hearing the word “almsgiving” immediately fills me with guilt as I recall all the times I’ve passed on the collection basket at Mass. For a long time, I couldn’t afford to give much, so I’d just sheepishly look down at the music hymnal until the collector passed. What I didn’t realize was my definition of almsgiving was all wrong — it’s not just about money.
I remember hearing somewhere that we are supposed to give 10% of our yearly income. It wasn’t until I came across a video by Father Mike Schmitz that I learned the Church actually invites us to give according to our means — i.e., your time and talents are gifts equally important to money.
Almsgiving isn’t supposed to feel like a medieval Church tax. It’s about offering the gifts we’ve been given in this life back to God by sharing our lives with the poor. Giving shouldn’t be done out of guilt, but out of gratitude for our blessings and the desire to share them with those who lack what they need to flourish.
In fact, giving your time and talent to serve others can be a better way to “give alms” because almsgiving is intended to put us in relationship with vulnerable people or those living on the margins of society. Offering our service can require more effort and commitment than writing a check and it can be transformative all around.
If you’re struggling to make ends meet and aren’t financially able to offer money to the Church, there are many other ways to give back. Here’s a few ideas to get your gears turning.
Get involved with your local food bank
Food banks are a good example of organizations that are often understaffed and working with a limited budget. Food banks typically need volunteers to stock shelves, prepare meals, sort donations, deliver care packages, and serve food. Your local food bank might even need some special services like bookkeeping, copywriting, social media management, etc., so if you’d like to put your professional talents to good use, inquire about any special skills they might need.
Not sure where your local food bank is? Do a quick zip code search on the Feeding America website to find one near you.
Visit a senior living center
We are wired to interact and socialize — we all need interactions to feel an emotional connection. Making visits to the elderly in assisted living homes can make a big impact on someone who spends a lot of time alone. It’s as simple as spending some time in conversation, reading, or playing games. If you really want to make a commitment, ask to be paired with a senior whom you can regularly visit.
If you notice your elderly neighbor lives alone or doesn’t have many visitors, offer to help them out with any tasks around the house. From things like shoveling, raking, fixing appliances, or just sharing a cup of coffee or tea, you can become someone they can trust and depend on in a time of need.
Do a quick Google search for assisted living facilities in your area — give them a ring and ask if they have a volunteer program you can sign up with.
Babysit for free
If you have friends or neighbors with kids, offer to babysit for free! As they say, being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Watching someone’s child for even only an hour is a huge relief for mothers or fathers who rarely have any time to themselves. Giving parents time to rest and recharge is sometimes all they need to get some relief, so why not offer to babysit during the evening or on the weekends?
Sign up to help an after-school program
After-school programs serve children of all ages and offer a variety of resources, including academic support, mentoring, arts, and sports and recreation. It’s important for kids to have safe and productive ways to spend time after school, and these organizations could always use the help. Programs like 4-H have been especially successful in helping kids and they have a thriving volunteer program.
To find after-school programs in your area, check out the After School Alliance website to search your area and call your region’s ambassadors.
Offer free tutoring
Do you know any kids who are struggling in school? Offer to tutor them in whatever subject they need help with. Some parents can’t afford to hire a tutor, so offering your services for free could make a huge difference in a kid’s confidence and ability to excel in school. Create a flyer with the topics you’re an expert in and send it to your family friends or post a flyer at your parish. Don’t be afraid to include life skills like sewing, cooking, or even online design programs that could benefit a child’s professional future. If you reach out to a nearby school, they will almost certainly find someone for you to help.
Become a hospital volunteer
Most hospitals have programs for volunteers to share their time and talents to support and encourage patients. Children’s hospitals, especially, have great volunteer programs. From playing games to watching movies, and even cuddling babies, the goal is to provide joy so patients can feel like kids again.
Try calling your local hospital to ask about volunteer programs or visit the Nationwide Children’s website to see if there are any volunteer opportunities in your area.
Get involved with homeless outreach
Consider signing up to work a shift at your local homeless shelter. Many homeless shelters need volunteers to spend the night or cover other tasks like answering phones, sorting mail, babysitting kids, washing dishes, distributing clothes, serving food, etc. You can also put your own skills and talents to use by offering your assistance with any classes the homeless shelter may provide.
There are other simple ways to help the homeless you encounter in your everyday life. Consider carrying with you or in your car gift cards for fast food or grocery store chains, granola bars, a packet of toiletries, a MetroCard with a few rides, or any clothing for the current climate they’re living in.
Call homeless shelters in your area and offer your help. If you’re having a hard time finding shelters via Google, reach out to your parish or young adult group on any information they may have. Most Catholic parishes have an active homeless outreach program you can quickly get involved with.