A person writes a letter with a pen.
A thoughtful, handwritten letter to a lonely neighbor takes just a few minutes to write—and it might deliver untold happiness. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It’s better to give than to receive. That old axiom may be even truer than many realize.

The physical and psychological health benefits of giving are great—and there are myriad ways to share your money or, better still, your expertise and time.

“These are stressful times for everybody and we’re having a very difficult experience associated with COVID,” said Anu Sood, LMSW, psychotherapist with Spectrum Health Psychiatry & Behavioral Medicine. “So, in general, volunteering and giving back to your community have been shown to be associated with better physical health, longevity and better psychological health—because the giving impacts the brain in a positive way.”

Now serving

Donating money to a charity or organization is a great way to benefit your community. It can also foster a warm feeling of satisfaction in the giver.

But there are also many no-cost or low-cost actions you can take to help others.

Sood’s suggestions:

  • Run essential errands for friends, family members and neighbors who are at high risk of falling ill with COVID-19. This can include grocery shopping and picking up medicines.
  • If you have the skill, sew masks or headbands with buttons over which masks may be looped.
  • If you’re able, donate blood. The pandemic has created a blood shortage across the country.
  • Sponsor or adopt animals in need.
  • Deliver homemade goods to neighbors and shut-ins.
  • Donate to food pantries—money or goods.
  • Help stock a free neighborhood library with books.
  • Check in regularly by phone or virtually with relatives and friends who live alone.

Generally, people can still find ways to safely help out local organizations such as hospice, mental health agencies and community centers, Sood said.

Many community agencies are still accepting volunteer help or donations. They’ve skillfully adapted to the preventive measures that everyone is urged to continue following—distancing, mask-wearing and good hand hygiene.

In some cases, it could be a matter of helping package items for distribution, placing packages of food into trunks of cars at drive-up food banks, or porch drop-offs of meals or care packages for people who are staying safely at home.

Priceless rewards

A side benefit to helping out in the community? You’re serving as a role model for youth, Sood said.

“COVID makes a lot of us feel helpless and out of control,” Sood said. “Giving in non-financial ways benefits both the giver and recipient. It empowers people.

“Helping someone else boosts self worth because it gives us a sense of purpose and it’s something individuals can do regardless of their financial situation.”

Parents can get their children involved.

Encourage youngsters to write letters to grandparents or relatives. For more physical activity, have kids do yard work for an elderly neighbor.

In taking care of others, people also need to also take care of themselves, Sood said. Get a flu shot, eat healthy, get plenty of rest and exercise.

As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been, Sood sees some positive result from it.

“Although this pandemic has been a terrifying time, it’s also shown us how strong our communities are and how there is so much kindness and empathy within our own communities,” she said. “People are coming out to support one another.”