7 wonderful reasons to give to strangers this holiday season.
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The holidays are here in full force, so you're likely making your gift list and checking it twice. But is anyone on that list someone you don't know?

It might sound like a hare-brained idea ("I already have so many people to give to!" I can hear you saying), and I get it. But it doesn't take much to make someone's season brighter, especially if they're in need. Sometimes a simple scarf, a bag of Hershey's Kisses, or just a few much-needed toiletries can turn someone's entire year around. And isn't sharing with others the theme of the season?

We asked real people across the country about why they give gifts to strangers during the holidays. The responses may inspire you to start a new giving tradition of your own.


Krista McCord and her family join together to give homeless kids what they really need (and want) during the holidays.

Photo by rahmani KRESNA on Unsplash.

"My sister-in-law always shares a list of Christmas gift wishes from homeless teens," says McCord.  "It breaks my heart, because they're mostly asking for shoes and jackets and very few novelty items. We work hard to get everything on their list. I am so thankful that I am able to help. I also do a Toys for tots drive at work."

McCord's reason for giving is simple: "I give at Christmas because I can. I am thankful for what I have and that I am able to share," she says. "I want other people to feel like they are loved and cared about."

Wes Hough and his wife give so they can make the world a kinder place and set a great example for their children.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

"We live in Delaware, and it regularly gets  below freezing here now. Particularly at night," says Hough.

"This year my wife and I decided we're going to make scarves to tie to light poles for the homeless here," he continues. "I want to do something nice and positive since I feel like so much of our lives have been consumed by negativity lately."

"I'm trying to set an example for my children —especially my 6 year old — that selflessness and charity are admirable traits. My kids inspire me to be better."

Miriam Campos and her children make hats for babies to pass on the same kindness they were once afforded.

Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash.

"In the next few weeks we will be delivering baby beanies made by my kiddos and myself to the three hospitals where my kids were born," says Campos.

"All three of the pregnancies were difficult, but the last one was the most memorable. Jonathan was hospitalized for 5 days due to having a fever a few hours after being born. He was moved to the intensive care and the staff there comforted him with a beautiful crocheted blanket made by senior citizens living in nearby facilities."

"We started the project last year, but we didn’t quite make them all on time so this year, The Campos family is coming to town!"

Alice Garibaldi and her husband adopt a family each year. Their reason? To let others know that someone cares.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash.

"We adopt a family in Pajaro, California each year," says Garibaldi. "The people we give to are usually migrant workers who have no work during the coldest parts of the winter. We provide clothing, toys, groceries and sometimes special wishes like a microwave. I coordinate this with a few friends and we really give them a Christmas to remember."

"I also give toys and food to our local resource center," she continues. "And I make donations to the humane society."

"I want to share what I have, and feel like life is so unfair," Garibaldi adds. "Why do some of us have so much and others struggle always?"

"I just want to help and show someone cares, even an anonymous someone. It's easy to focus on yourself and those you love. I try to spread the love and realize we all need help sometimes."

Jasmine Williams and her family have a different kind of tradition. Every Christmas, they show their appreciation and gratitude to service workers. And each year, they learn a little more about grace.

Photo by Kate Townsend on Unsplash.

"Every year, the night before Christmas Eve, my family picks a restaurant and goes out to dinner. No matter how good or bad our service is, we give our server a 100 percent tip," says Williams.

"Over the years, we've been to many different restaurants to celebrate the holiday tradition, but there's one I will never forget. I sat down at the table across from my mom and sister, the three of us already grinning as the waiter introduced himself. A few minutes later, he headed back over with waters while we read over the menu. Except, we never got a chance to drink them. Our waiter somehow managed to drop an entire tray of ice waters directly into my lap."

"My sister and I both assumed we were leaving to go home, but my mom told us we were staying. I couldn't believe she wanted to stay and eat dinner there, let alone tip the waiter at all. But our tradition only has one rule: we must tip 100% regardless of the quality of service we receive."

"As an adult, this is still my favorite holiday tradition because it has taught me an important life lesson in gratitude and giving others a little more grace. It's not a lesson that we could have learned from a self-help book, college class, or life coach. It's one that we had to learn through action. I'm grateful to my mom for starting the tradition and even for that tray of ice waters, which brought me that a-ha moment."

Samantha Torrez and her husband Pedro strive to lessen the burden that families feel — especially during the holidays.

Photo by Samantha Torrez.

"My husband Pedro and I live in Pittsburgh, PA, but he is originally from Guatemala," writes Torrez in an email.

"Each Christmas, we visit his family in Guatemala for the holidays. We host an event in which we distribute baskets full of rice, beans, soup, toilet paper, toothbrushes and other necessities to families in need in his hometown."

"Last Christmas, with our personal contributions and contributions of family and friends, we were able to provide 200 baskets. This year, we intend to provide 225-250 baskets. This project connects us and those closest to us to a group of people we have never met before but who we know are in great need. As Guatemala is the fourth most undernourished country in the world, the impact this project has on impoverished families is nothing short of amazing. The families greatly enjoy our event, which includes festive food and drink and Christmas music before the baskets are distributed."

"Sometimes the smallest things, like a basket of basic goods, can have a huge impact on someone else's life. When your actions come from a place of love, they have a tremendous effect on others and can often create a ripple effect."

Finally, Jen Fry has taken a lesson from her mother, a woman who has everything. Instead of filling her house with more gifts — she's paying it forward to those who don't have enough.

Photo by Damir Bosnjak on Unsplash.

"My mom is in her 80s and has almost everything you can imagine, so buying gifts for her is always difficult," Fry writes in an email.

"About 4 years ago after hearing my mom consistently talk about downsizing, I realized that I wasn't helping by always buying her gifts for her birthday and holidays. Although she loved them (or said she did), I knew they were just adding up in her house. It was at that point I decided instead to sponsor women of her age during Christmas and buy them gifts."

"Now, I sponsor two elderly single women and their caretakers and buy them Christmas gifts. These women not only want Christmas gifts, they need them. My money goes a long away because instead of buying my mom some new electronic device, I get to buy these women clothing, house supplies, or anything else they would like."

"While it is important to buy those you love gifts, I feel it is more important to help those who are in need of love as well."

This holiday season, it's important to remember your blessings and think outside yourself.

If you think outside that box (that you're planning to give to your family), you'll be making a huge difference to whoever you give to, even if you never meet them face-to-face. After all, when you help someone you may not know have a better holiday, that's the true spirit of the season.  

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."