Illustration by Kenny Srivijittakar.
Illustration by Kenny Srivijittakar.

The starving, swamped, selfish student: we’ve all played the role before.

“I’d like to, but I don’t have any change,” we tell the homeless person on Pacific on the way to the Del Mar Theater.

“I want to, but I don’t have any time,” we tell ourselves when we have too many tests to study for, hours to waste on Facebook, and drinks to chug down with our friends instead of volunteering at a local nonprofit.

“It’d be nice, but I have nothing to spare,” we rationalize, despite the fact that we have a closet full of clothes, half of which we never wear.

With the arrival of the holiday season, it’s time to cast ourselves out of such self-created situations. Although we may struggle to pay the tuition fees ourselves, living modestly instead of lavishly, the truth is we have more going for us than against us than we might think.

Since we’ll be out of school for the break, let’s use this time to rethink our abilities to give and volunteer and most importantly, just to notice what is going on in the world outside of our own reality.

Homeless shelters and food banks can always use volunteers and donations. Doing this with a friend, or even a date, makes for a unique memory for the both of you. Toys for Tots and similar organizations give underprivileged children a chance to enjoy a special treat they might not get during the year. Consider having your family give gifts to these organizations instead of another gift to you that will just sit in the closet or on the shelf collecting dust.

Giving can also be much more local, low-key and less costly than other gifts. Quality time makes a great present. Reconnect with neighbors over homemade cookies. Cook with a grandparent and share stories and recipes of their past. Distract your younger siblings from the video consoles by playing real tennis instead of on their Wii console. Make someone’s day by giving nothing more than time and sincere, heartfelt attention.

Small actions have big impacts. Smile. Hug. Say “Thank you.” Don’t miss an opportunity to tell — or show — someone you care.

So forget that you’re an overworked, broke, unfortunate college student, barely getting by in the crazy UC budget mess. Remember that at the end of the day, everyone is trying to get by and we should do our best to make it easier, more pleasant and rewarding by giving whatever we can.

Online resources:

Volunteer Centers of Santa Cruz:
This website lists ongoing Santa Cruz volunteer and internship opportunities.

Volunteer Match
Search local volunteer events by area. Search in Santa Cruz or in your hometown.