Expert Advice

15 Ways to Spread the Love This Holiday Season


15 Ways to Spread the Love This Holiday Season

Expert Advice

This season, why not bring some of the comforts of home to Mainers in need? We’ve rounded up 15 worthwhile ways to do it. 

All the big and small things that make a house a home come into sharp focus at holiday time: kitchens turn out feasts, entryways become even more inviting with greenery and bows, hearth fires glow as friends and families gather. In the midst of the merriment, it can be easy to forget that for many, this time of year brings more struggle than warmth and wonder. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to make the season brighter for needy Mainers. We checked in with some people in the know, including at the Maine Association of Nonprofits, for holiday-specific ideas — from fulfilling a child’s wish list to fundraising for the Animal Refuge League by “hiring” adoptable pets to attend your office or family party. Choose a cause that speaks to your heart and help spread the love from your home to someone else’s.

Play Santa

Those looking to lend a hand in Freeport or Pownal can contact Freeport Community Services’ Holiday Helpline, which fills wish lists of warm clothing, toys, and other gifts for families and adults in need. “Most people who donate ‘adopt’ a household, so they purchase gifts that people have specifically requested,” says community services coordinator Sarah Lundin. More ways to help: Sign up to sort, wrap, and deliver gifts or drop off ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal at the group’s food pantry. 207-865-3985.

This season, officials at Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville expect they’ll distribute gift boxes to 1,800 disadvantaged kids through their Christmas Program. “We accept monetary donations, but a large need is in-kind donations of new toys, clothing, books, and more,” says media and marketing coordinator Samy Sturtevant. The group, which provides adoption and other family support services, is also seeking volunteers to help pack and deliver boxes during the first week of December. 207-872-0261.

Ronald McDonald House in Bangor and Portland offers a home away from home for families of seriously ill children being treated at area hospitals. Those staying in December can “shop” for gifts at no cost through the organization’s Holiday Workshop, comprised of new donated books, toys, games, toiletries, sports equipment, gift cards, stocking stuffers, and more. 207-942-9003 (Bangor); 207-780-6282 (Portland).

In South Portland, several area businesses are partnering with the police and school departments and the Police Patrolmen’s Association to run the South Portland Christmas Toy Drive. “Each year, we collect hundreds of new toys, boots, and coats, which are distributed with the help of our local police officers,” says organizer Liz Darling, of Maine Roofing. The group works with teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators to identify families most in need. Donors can fulfill an individual family’s wish list or deliver any of the above items to an affiliated business. 207-767-4243. [email protected]

Keep Someone Warm

The statewide Coats and Toys for Kids program has provided an estimated 836,000 jackets and 64,500 toys to Maine’s most vulnerable young people. The Salvation Army started the coat drive in 1983; News Center Maine joined the effort seven years later and, in 2004, the partners decided to distribute toys as well. You can drop off gently used and new jackets and new, unwrapped toys at Hannaford Supermarkets and Shaw’s and Pratt Abbott stores starting November 23. [email protected].

Each December, New Beginnings, a Lewiston organization serving runaway and homeless youth and their families statewide, hosts a Holiday Gift Drive, distributing more than 100 care packages comprised of donated items, such as new hooded sweatshirts, warm socks, blankets, and toiletries, to kids participating in its emergency shelter, outreach, and transitional living programs. Good Samaritans can also volunteer to sort donations. 207-795-4077.

South Portland’s The Opportunity Alliance, a provider of early childhood education, mental health services, and other programs in Cumberland County, is collecting new winter coats, snow pants, and boots for kids up to age 18 through its Winter Warm-Up program. The organization ran a popular holiday gift drive for many years, but has found that “what families really need is more basic than toys,” says development associate Sarah André. Sign up to receive a child’s shopping list and drop off gear now through the end of November. 207-523-5063.

For approximately 600 adults and 100 teens staying in its shelters over the holidays, Preble Street — a Portland organization dedicated to fighting homelessness, hunger, and poverty — is seeking new hooded sweatshirts, winter hats and boots, underwear, athletic socks, toiletries, and more. Donations of Thanksgiving turkeys and other dishes (by November 20), and treats for holiday parties are also welcome. 207-775-0026.

Start a Food Drive

Harness the power of your community to help ensure other Mainers don’t go hungry over the holidays. Ask friends, family members, and colleagues for donations of canned and boxed food and grocery gift cards, then drop them off at a local soup kitchen, food bank, or outreach program. A few we recommend: Bar Harbor Food Pantry (207-288-2000;, Midcoast Maine Hunger Prevention Program in Brunswick (207-725-2716;, and Preble Street (207-775-0026; and Wayside Food Programs (207-775-4939; in Portland. Alternatively, you can search for food banks by zip code and/or organize a “virtual food drive” on the Auburn- and Hampden-based Good Shepherd Food Bank of Maine site ( Call or visit websites for a list of requested foods — providing those “is best for donors and those who will be receiving the food,” says Mary Zwolinski, executive director of Wayside Food Programs.

Honor a Fallen Vet

When decking the halls this year, consider a symbolic remembrance. On December 14, the national organization Wreaths Across America will host its annual wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and 1,600 other U.S. locations. In Maine, the group hopes to place wreaths on more than 4,000 graves at veterans’ cemeteries in Augusta, Caribou, and Springvale. Show your support by sponsoring a wreath or volunteering at an event. 877-385-9504.

Support Furry Friends

Shop for trees, handmade gifts, pet supplies, and more at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s annual Holiday Open House on December 7, where all proceeds benefit the Westbrook organization and the 6,000 animals in its care. Hosting a holiday party? Let the group’s Caravan of Cuddles — two staffers and three to six adoptable puppies or kittens — provide entertainment and seasonal stress relief ($250 per half hour benefits ARLGP). 207-517-3932.