So Halloween is over and it’s nearly Christmas already. Oh wait. Did we forget about that little holiday in the middle? The one where we are thankful for our families and friends before donning our sweatpants and stuffing our faces with cheesecake. Right, Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love all the colors, the food, the Macy’s Day Parade and the family stuff that goes with it. Growing up the folks at our table may have changed from year to year, and there was even a year we didn’t get to celebrate because we were all too sick; but I always had my brothers, my sister and my mom. It was a time of year when we really felt thankful. We had plenty of food (which didn’t happen for us every day), we didn’t argue (maybe one of the only two days a year we were angels), and we could just relax together. We never took a family vacation growing up so these holidays were our vacations and I think we somehow made the best of them. We watched a lot of movies, ate our favorite foods and shared a lot of laughs.
I grew up incredibly poor. My mom was a single mom to four of us and she worked three jobs. My parents divorced when I was five and we didn’t have much until I was old enough to go to work and help out with school shopping. Even though things were tight my mom always made sure we had enough at the holidays to make up for what we were lacking throughout the year. Sometimes it even meant we were one of the families waiting for a food box from the local church pantry. Growing up like that hurt. It was often hard on all of us. But I think out of everything, we learned to be grateful. At least I know I have.
Now I am a mom to two beautiful kids who had more in their first year of life than I did in my entire childhood. I don’t want them to go without, but I worry about how to teach them to be truly grateful and appreciate what they have. Most of all I worry about teaching them compassion. Before kids I was frequently volunteered at a soup kitchen or as a board member of a few organizations and raising funds for local families. I did a lot of hands-on walk events that included pitching tents, standing at tables and making a lot of phone calls to local businesses. Once my babies arrived I assumed I would just take them along with me and it would be business as usual. Easy peasy. Nope. No can do. (You’ve read my blog about my kids public tantrums right?).
So, I have learned how to give back in ways my kids can participate in often without having to leave home. I hope by sharing these things with my kids and explaining why we do these things will really help them understand the importance of helping; and ultimately instill compassion for their world.
1. Operation Christmas Cheer is the easiest holiday give back you can possibly spend time on. In less than one minute and for less than $1.00 you can send a Christmas card to a child with cancer/terminal illness to decorate their room with. This began as a simple request from a friend of mine to send one card to a few local kids going through chemotherapy. I sent them each one card. But, then I thought why not ask my friends and family to send some cards too. Suddenly, girl scout troops and entire classrooms were getting involved. Over 65 of my friends and family members enlisted the help of their friends and family to send out cards and gifts to children they have never met. And, just like that my small Facebook charity was born. You could easily make cards for a children’s hospital or even a nursing home near you. Go simple with a handful of cards, or call your friends and family to action and get dozens sent.
2. Operation Christmas Child is a fun family project. Families fill a shoe box with gifts and supplies that are sent all around the world to children in impoverished countries. You can even track where your package lands. Little ones love to help select the toys and gifts that go inside each box.
3. Bonnie Boxes are similar in similar concept to the Operation Christmas Child shoe box program, but volunteers hand out shoe boxes full of gifts and activities to local cancer treatment centers. You can gather up a team to fill and wrap boxes to be delivered. You can create packages to go to adults or children. Perhaps you can open your home to organizing a packing event and the little ones can help!
4. Host a coat drive. Ask friends and neighbors for their gently used coats and winter wear. Your house can serve as a drop-off site until you are ready to deliver to a local agency, school nurses’ office or church. No big event to chair or to plan for. Families receiving a warm coat they thought they couldn’t afford is a huge help.
5. Collect supplies. Birthday parties are a great time to collect extra supplies for the food pantry, the local SPCA or a local family in need. People are already gathering in your home and there’s no shopping involved for you. At my girls’ second birthday we began requesting one canned good per family. My kids help me load the bag, take it to church and place in the collection box. Even if they don’t understand the full impact of giving canned goods, they understand their work is important.
6. Give of your time, talent or treasure. If you can’t write a check but still want to give back, donate a skill like crafting or painting. My mother used to take me with her to the hospital nursing home to paint ceramic pieces for the residents. Sometimes she would paint and I would wander the halls chatting with the elderly and help them play bingo. I learned the most about helping others from my time there. Perhaps you could donate crafts or decorations to a local nursing home or family shelter to help brighten the residents’ holiday.
7. Host a home party event and ask that a portion of the sales be donated to a charity of your choice. Ask friends in direct sales (think Tupperware, Mary Kay, Barefoot Books, etc.) to set up a table at your home. Invite all your friends and family. You get to do a little shopping surrounded by friends while your little ones get to play.
My friend and I joke about how we can’t wait for the day our kids are old enough to volunteer alongside us. I hope my kids get as much out of giving back as I do. With little ones who are still so reliant on a schedule/routine and sparse childcare, it can be a challenge to volunteer your time outside the home. With a little creativity you can still find a way to give back and impart some valuable lessons to your little ones. It is true that charity starts in the home.