Students should make the best of this season of giving

This is by and large my favorite time of year to buy gifts for others and find incredible deals on gifts for … well … myself. I feel a little guilty admitting this, but if something is a great deal, it’s worth it, right? Do I really need that pair of J.Crew boots for half-off or that $20 shirt that they’re practically giving away? These “to buy, not to buy” decisions are time consuming and, with finals, an easy distraction from the end-of-semester stress we’re all facing.

It’s the last month of the year, which means Americans, like you and me, are shopping till we drop. The National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend $619.9 billion from November through December. And while the economy has been improving these past few years, a report found 80 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for services though 56 percent of these nonprofits were unable to meet the demand.

I’m making this the year that I give up just one item that I’ve been coveting and commit to donating a gift of the same dollar amount to my favorite nonprofit. For the past six months, I’ve been meaning to get involved with  L.A. Kitchen, but life has been nonstop. Instead of waiting, I decided to close that browser window with my online shopping cart and, instead, make a donation.

As a graduate student, time is hard to come by, and this was an easy opportunity to give up something I never needed for something filled with meaning for someone else. There’s no shortage of need in our backyard. Did you know that Los Angeles has the second largest homeless population in the United States, or how about the incredible 841 museums and art galleries in Los Angeles County?  We are awash with organizations, movements, art projects and creative human services that have projects they’re desperate to fund.

The Trojan community has long been a hub of community-based philanthropy. The Office of Civic Engagement estimates that USC dedicated an incredible $35 million in support of community initiatives last year. Let’s build on USC’s commitment to our community, and give in a way we’ve never done before. If we can be one of the thousands of fans filling the Coliseum, then nothing is stopping us from coming together to pass on our next online purchase and share that amount of money with a meaningful cause.

This idea of forgoing one purchase and making a donation to support a nonprofit to make a difference is tied into #giftchange. We’ve heard over and over that there’s power in numbers and power in doing good. But did you know that you benefit directly from being generous? Researchers discovered that the act of making a donation activates the brain’s reward center, the mesolimbic pathway, which delivers a euphoric response. There’s so much to gain from giving. Let’s not pass up this opportunity to come together, feel good and make someone else feel good, too.

As we begin to wrap up 2014 and celebrate our many holidays, I challenge you to give up one purchase and give to your favorite nonprofit instead. Tell your friends what you did (on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, wherever) and challenge at least three of them to do the same. Join the #giftchange. You never know when a little change up will go a long way. Happy holidays, fellow Trojans, and fight on!

Rebecca Ruben

Master of social work, 2016