Love To Give

loveThis Valentine’s Day, forget the wining and dining. Do something that matters.

Like most people, I’ve had good Valentine’s Days and, well, not so good.

The not-so-good dates back to middle school, when I, like many of my classmates, anxiously awaited one of those pink-dyed carnations from what I hoped would be a secret admirer.  Some years the carnation never came and it left me feeling uneasy about the 14th of February almost every year.

I later came to realize that Valentine’s Day is about much more than getting flowers or conversation hearts that say “Hot Stuff” or “Be Mine.” I love it that there’s a day in our busy lives when we officially celebrate love. I’m not just talking romantic love, but the real-deal, universal stuff-of-life that makes up who we really are. Behind all our roles and personalities and professionalism, each of us, at essence, is a living, loving being. Sure, on the other 364 days of the year we might try to fake it, but on this one day, the world agrees: Love is where it’s at. Call it spirit, call it sweetness — whatever you want to call it, we’ve all got it. It’s just a matter of what we do with it.

There are plenty of ways to do good and feel good this Valentine’s Day. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Will You Be My…Volunteer? There’s no shortage of ways you can help. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, animal shelter, or favorite nonprofit, or offer to tutor a child in reading or math. You can find loads of opportunities on VolunteerMatch, or check out DoSomething, which helps younger folks rock the causes they care about.

2.  Put the “Fun” in Fundraising. If you’re taking that special someone out for a pricey dinner, why not have your bill go to a good cause? Check your newspaper or online city pages for Valentine-themed fundraisers that support local nonprofits. Or better yet, throw your own happy hour or party and donate the proceeds to charity.

3. Give a Little Bit. Sometimes a little helps a lot. Looking to put your money where your mouth is? Donate a dollar a handday to a cause that calls to you through Philanthroper. Or support students and classrooms in need in your hometown through DonorsChoose.

4. Send Love Letters. Not just to your sweetheart, but to people and organizations that are doing good things for the world. Tell them why you respect and appreciate their work, and that they really do make a difference. If you’re feeling extra romantic, include a donation.

5. Reach Out to Those in Need. Deliver homemade Valentine’s cards or heart-shaped cookies to the sick, the elderly, the homeless — and their caregivers. Call a local children’s hospital, nursing home, domestic violence or homeless shelter and ask how you can donate an hour or two of your time.

6. Give Gifts That Give. There are dozens of charitable shopping sites and online nonprofit stores selling gifts for a good cause. Look for red Motorola phones, Gap T-shirts and iPods from Apple to support the (Red) Campaign, or find cause-specific gifts to alleviate hunger, breast cancer, deforestation and more at Greater Good. Can’t find the perfect gift for your special someone? Give a Good Card through Network for Good.

7. Love Your Mother (Earth). Take the trash challenge: For one day, see if you can generate zero trash. Zip, nada, loveearthnothing. No cardboard boxes, no disposable containers, no bottled water. Think of what you can reduce and re-use, and call your county or city waste management to find out about local compost programs.

8. Get Your Heart Pumping. Charity walks and runs raise money for a good cause and get you moving in the great outdoors. Bring the family or your co-workers along to make it a team event. To find an event, check your local American Heart Association or a local runners’ club, such as Road Runners Club.

9. Adopt a Pet for a Day. Offer to take care of a pet for an ill or homebound neighbor. Volunteer at your local animal shelter to take the dogs for a walk. Or adopt an endangered species through the World Wildlife Fund, and you’ll get a lovable stuffed pet and adoption certificate.

10. Say “I Do” to Charitable Weddings. Tying the knot this year? Consider creating a charitable gift registry through the I Do Foundation and its many retail and nonprofit partners.

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