“Retail frenzy” is an accurately descriptive phrase this time of year, but set the stuff aside and what are the holidays, traditionally, really all about?

Giving, of course. To give without attachment to the outcome is such a wonderful feeling. Each of us has this innate ability, regardless of how much or little we think we have materially—what we give is less important than the spirit of how we give. There are so many kinds of need in the world today—we can be the most useful by giving in ways that have meaning to us.

When large scale disaster strikes (Haiti, Japan, etc.), I tend to struggle with how to give money and who to give it to—I am wary of the “text this number to send an automatic donation” type programs, because I have no way of knowing if and how my money actually went to help the cause. A good way to avoid the detachment an ambiguity is to give locally. Whether your donation is monetary or you choose to give your time or other resources, there are many transparent organizations already set up to distribute resources to folks in need here in our community. Giving locally has a visceral impact on the place where we live, work and raise our children.

In this economy, many families and individuals are struggling with mortgages, medical bills and even meeting basic needs. There are Benicia-based organizations built around support of folks in these situations.

The Benicia Community Action Council has been in business for over 40 years and its mission is to provide guidance, resources and referrals to those striving for self-sufficiency. This may mean serving hot meals to seniors or helping low-income youth with on-the-job training, offering rental assistance or counseling. The staff at BCAC is eager to help members of the community live full and independent lives. Monetary donations are tax-deductible and can be earmarked for certain programs. Donations of food, household goods and clothing in good condition are also accepted. For the holidays, gifts can also be given to kids at donation sites throughout the city, and families can be adopted. Visit the website at www.bencac.com for details on how to donate, or call 707.745.0900.

Families in Transition is an all-volunteer nonprofit formed to prevent homelessness by helping Benicia families who suddenly suffer an unexpected economic setback due to unemployment, health, or family problems. FIT’s mission is to provide respite to a Benicia family in need by an effective, compassionate, fair, and quick response to that family’s need. If you’re interested in helping, you can make an annual or monthly contribution, volunteer to help with tasks or special events, or spread the word to organizations that may be interested in becoming donors. Visit FIT on the web at www.familiesintransition.org or give them a call at 707.645.3000. You can also find community event updates at www.facebook.com/pages/Families-In-Transition.

Churches are also great resources for learning how to be of assistance in our community. There are many in Benicia. Get in touch with your local church to find out what kind of special events may be planned for the holidays.

If you’re interested in serving a hot meal to someone who’s hungry, St. Paul’s church serves meals every Wednesday evening. You can find them on the web at www.stpaulsbenicia.org. There are food banks around the Bay Area (if you’d like to widen your lens slightly), including The Food Banks of Contra Costa and Solano Counties, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and several in San Francisco. I’ve served at Glide (www.glide.org) and it was a wonderful experience.

May the joyful spirit of giving be with you this holiday season!