The holiday season really is starting to gear up, whether you like it or not. While here in Rochester visiting friends, I spotted by first Salvation Army bellringer. A deep red, clanging bird of Capistrano; that’s what those guys are like to the holiday season.

Even so, it’s a good reminder. Yes, times are likely difficult financially. If you’ve donated to charity before, you may not feel like you could give again or as much this year. And if you’ve never donated, it doesn’t feel like a good time to start. That’s perfectly understandable, but remember that if it’s more difficult for you this year, it’s likely even worse for others.

The holidays are the perfect time to express love through giving. Well, any time is a great time, of course, but something about this season seems to add just a bit more magic to it. It can be as simple as taking one of those tags off the tree at Wal-Mart and buying a child a toy or article of clothing. It could even be a few hours of service at a kitchen that doesn’t require a dime. Friends and family are great, but there’s something unique about strangers helping strangers.

Here are a couple projects that have piqued my interest through the years. There are plenty more out there if neither of these suits your taste; all you have to do is search.

Stuff Christians Like: Building a Kindergarten — Jon Acuff over at the funny and often inspiring (funspiring?) Stuff Christians Like blog recently opened a project to raise $30,000 to build a Kindergarten classroom in Vietnam. The $30,000 came within 18 hours, so he’s looking to raise the funds for more. Acuff has been keeping close tabs on the effort, which makes it feel more inclusive. It doesn’t feel you’ve thrown money into a hole and may never know the results. The project is organized through Samaritan’s Purse, a trustworthy Christian charity whose “Operation Christmas Child” shoebox project is also well worth looking into.

Childs Play — Looking for a charity that’s a little less “preachy”? One that still does great things but is run by people who openly use the f word? Then Childs Play, the charity founded by the folks at Penny Arcade may be for you. Created as a backlash against accusations that video games make people violent and apathetic, Childs Play donates video games, movies, books and other items to hospitalized youngsters. A number of hospitals around the country have signed on with the charity and created Amazon wishlists, so you can even choose exactly what to buy, if you wish. Response over the past few years by gamers and game companies has been astounding, but the world isn’t running out of sick kids anytime soon.

On a sidenote, I keep thinking of trying a bellringing stint each year, but never get around to it. This year, though, I think I’m really going to get out there and do it. It should be a good experience; especially if they let me use my own bell…