The Mutual Benefits of Giving

In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery refers to a study that found people benefit from altruistic behavior — not just those on the receiving end, but those on the giving end as well. He finds that people who share or help others gain a higher sense of well-being compared to those who focus more on monetary profit. The benevolent types were tested and found to have more of the pleasure-boosting, trust-enhancing, calm-inducing molecule called oxytocin floating through their bloodstreams. In essence, he argues that the act of giving makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and can ultimately lead to greater happiness.

The holidays are a good time to enact this kind of behavior, despite the fact that our gifts are usually for our close friends and loved ones, and not so much for our community as a whole. It’s not always convenient to think of those in need during this hectic time — images of packed malls and last-minute LCBO gift cards (my go-to in a bind) and general mayhem are almost a rite of passage for those of us who go along with the hullabaloo — but perhaps we can all keep in mind that a happy city is one that engages with people that aren’t just in our inner circle. Perhaps we can all go one step further and try to give something back to support those in our communities fighting hunger, homelessness and poverty.

So, here’s my challenge: when you’re making up your holiday gift list, add just one more item.

One of the services around Kitchener Waterloo that could use your help is House of Friendship’s Christmas hamper program.

Matt Cooper coordinates the seasonal program (as well as the year-round emergency food hamper program) and says December can be “pretty depressing” for people around the Region living on low income. Not only is food short,  but the seasons brings many societal expectations for families that are also often expensive.

“The Region is very prosperous yet there are still a lot of people who struggle to make ends meet,” Cooper says.

The program sponsors families and individuals to provide food items like a turkey and presents for children. It is fueled by the work of volunteers and anyone can donate their time or money towards the cause.

“Either or is very welcome,” he says, explaining that “last year we did over 4000 hampers in the community.”

The program also needs drivers (to deliver the hampers) as well as financial donations to stay afloat, so if this is something you might be interested in, check out the website If you find yourself in need of help this season, you can easily apply directly on the site, as well.

On the benefits of altruism, Cooper remarks that “people who give their time here quickly become a kind of extended family, so there is a huge direct benefit from interacting with your neighbours who are experiencing a troubling time.”

He also suggests that learning about different people and working towards a common goal can be highly rewarding for people that get involved.

One in twenty people will need this program or similar ones across the Region, so he also emphasizes the significance of asking the bigger questions concerning that statistic.

“Giving and volunteering is the tip of the iceberg of a bigger issue,” Cooper adds. “Getting involved in the conversation is important — asking why are people experiencing so much adversity in our community? Why is that happening? Getting involved in the process of politics and communicating expectations to representatives — if people have more time to give, try and go a little further with it.” This is, of course, a conversation we can continue all throughout the year.

There are many other local organizations that would welcome  your assistance at this time, or at any time of the year. And as always, learning about the issues is an excellent place to start. To that end, I suggest visiting (the Hunger and Homeless Umbrella Group) to learn about ways to get involved in helping people experiencing homelessness. The Sexual Assault Support Centre continues to develop innovative and important programming, and also always needs donations. Learn more about their work at

If you don’t have to worry about where your food is coming from this holiday season, ask yourself if you might be able to spare something towards the greater good of our community. And while the proverbial sleigh bells ring, remember that there are a multitude of ways to give back, and multiple reasons to do so. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”