The holiday season brings cozy joy. Chilly drifting snow begs for creamy hot chocolate and cuddle breaks over black and white movies. Your heart fills to the brim when finding gift after gift to perfectly display your love toward your lucky recipients.
Thoughts of a gentle, jolly fellow who rewards lovely children (okay, okay, almost all children) with fun toys and gadgets provides an annual tradition you hope will linger. Stuffing bellies with good, homemade foods and sweets, all while relaxing your guilty mind, knowing that everyone will be gaining a little weight, too. It’s a good time to be alive.
We all celebrate the holidays with a particular reason in mind, be it our religious convocation, an excuse to show appreciation for friends and loved ones, or just to get in touch with the goodwill of the season. Being one of the rare times of the year when it becomes easier to work quite hard, all of the joy as a known outcome, it’s also a time that our thoughts lead from the sweetness to the bitterness of life.
We have so much, yet so many are unable to give their families the basic necessities. There are children starving or lacking potable water in all corners of the world. Abused animals are facing overcrowded, deplorable living situations. The list goes on and on.
The empowering part is – you can help!
There are ways, big and small, to interweave the joys of the holiday with the humble glow of humanitarian help, all while touching the part of your child’s brain and heart and imparting the true meaning underlying the “stuff” of the season. Some of these ideas have been “recycled” like a fake Christmas tree and some are fresh like a Balsam, but even if you pick just one to implement, your holidays will surely hold a little new meaning.
Every community has opportunities to give, be it by giving directly to families in need, or through a local shelter (homeless, abused women and children, or animal), trustworthy humanitarian organization, or church. If you’re not sure where to start, keep your eyes peeled for a community bulletin board at the post office while sending Christmas packages, while stocking up at the grocery store, or at your municipal building. If you can’t find anything, contact your police or fire station, or reach out to pastors to find out what efforts they’re making in the community and how you can help.
If you find that efforts are lacking, put the ball in motion. Ask your children what they think would be helpful for your community and work out their ideas as a family. Getting their hands dirty is the first way to plant the seeds of compassion and empathy.
People love drives! They’re easy for folks to drop off their goods (or money into a bucket) and go about their busy days. Find or start a food drive, coat drive, toy drive, “red bucket campaign”, or come up with a creative, new idea (kids are great at this, often far better than adults). Have a local school or transportation company provide an unused bus on a random Saturday and sponsor a “Stuff the Bus” event. Track down some local personalities to get involved, be they from the local news and radio stations, a local politician, or well-known business person. Attaching their names to the event can only provide them with good PR, and help get the word out about your event. Be sure to utilize social media and create your own hashtag to promote whatever event you choose, and have your kids make handmade posters to hang around town.
Make It Personal
Find a “Giving Tree” and select a person or family to purchase or donate items for at church or school (giving trees are rampant and if you can’t find one, help your child organize one). As an educator, I pick several children from our school’s tree every year but never find out who the kids are. It’s hard not to wonder, but the thought of making a personal connection even anonymously creates a special sort of warm, fuzzy buzz that epitomizes the season.
On an even more personal note, I recall an episode of the television show “7th Heaven” from way back when (I’m dating myself) in which the kids get gifts for each other but don’t BUY anything. They can make something, do a kindness, or come up with another creative way to meet the challenge. Genius! Difficult, but genius! You may be inspired by seeing just how creative your child can be, and how thoughtful the resulting gifts are.
Small Strides Make Big Impacts
Go through a list of local shelters (or “think big” and look at worldwide organizations that give to causes such as education for girls, providing healthy meals and drinking water, or teaching skills to villages to promote sustainability) with your kids and discuss what each one does. Decide which one(s) your family would like to “adopt.” Then contact your shelter or organization to find out what their needs are. You’ll find that, while many places are in need of food, many are desperate for toiletries and linens, or toys for children or animals.
What’s greener than finding a new purpose (and I do mean purpose) for unneeded goods? Clean blankets, sheets, and towels can find new homes at battered women’s shelters or humane societies, gently used toys that your children no longer want can be passed along to children who have little to nothing, and treats and toys that your pets never took to will be a welcome distraction for animals awaiting their forever homes. And a side perk? Cleaning out and simplifying your own storage, although the main focus is about giving to others.
Show Me the Green
As your children get older and have a better understanding of the bigger picture, discuss whether they’d like to receive less “stuff” (not zero gifts, unless they really choose it). If they’re truly interested, suggest that they ask relatives for a donation to a particular organization rather than a sweater that hardly gets worn or yet another DVD to add to the pile. You can select a charity together or have each child pick their own, and send a sweet Christmas card (or e-card) to relatives with their intentions. What would be more heart-warming to receive in your inbox than the thoughtfulness of children?
If you’re having a family get-together, when folks are invited, request a donation (be it canned goods or monetary) in lieu of a hostess gift. Have your kids “play Santa” and collect these donations as guests arrive.
No Greater Gift Than Time
Not only is the gift of time free, but it’s often the most appreciated by others. Especially in the midst of holiday craziness, it’s important to keep in touch with reality and take time for those in need. Try finding the time to work at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or church on or around the holidays if you have a couple of hours to spare. Even caroling with plates of homemade cookies to hand out will touch strangers’ hearts in a way we can’t even imagine.
Consider those in need beyond material things, like the lonely and broken-hearted, such as homes for the aged and veteran groups. Hand-in-hand with these ideas, consider making a family New Year resolution to start volunteering their time to give to others. This way, you’ll be able to carry the spirit of giving into the new year, and into your lives in a regular basis.
These ideas, along with any other wonderful ideas I’m sure you or your little ones can stir up, will help to make the joys of this holiday season all the more memorable for your family, but also for all the lives that you’re sure to touch.
Here are some links to a few organizations to help you kickstart your holiday charity activities:
- For animal lovers, consider choosing a donation option through the World Wildlife Fund Gift Center, or use The Shelter Pet Project Find-a-Shelter lookup to find a local shelter where your family can donate goods or time.
- Don’t forget the vets (whether they’re currently serving our country or served back in the day)! Choose from several ways to give back to our troops through Operation Shoebox. It’s a grassroots operation that works to send their signature “We Care” packages, “Wounded Warrior” bags, children’s items (to aid in humanitarian efforts by allowing troops to distribute these items in conflict areas) and much, much more. Donate money for shipping and goods or items.
- Planet-friendly charity options are rampant, so it’s relatively easy to find one that speaks to you and your child(ren). The World Land Trust works in a variety of ways to help save habitats (particularly rainforests) and species worldwide, even offering a chance to protect a particular animal or “purchase” an acre of land as a gift in someone’s name. The Environmental Defense Fund is another group making huge strides in the U.S. and all over the world, using science and economics to find the most useful and lasting solutions to the world’s greatest environmental problems. And, of course, lest we not forget our country’s oldest conservation group, the John Muir-founded Sierra Club. This charity’s goals run the gamut from fighting unclean energy choices to connecting to inner-city kids and military families to provide outdoor adventures. Your teenage environmentalist might even consider getting involved with the Sierra Student Coalition, a wonderful opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and discover that you’re never too young to impact the future of our world.
- Humanitarian charities are another great way to reach out and help individuals in need. It’s important to realize that by empowering women and girls, in particular, and providing practical resources for them to flourish, in turn they will impart their knowledge to future generations. It’s a beautiful cycle, in addition to pulling women out of dire situations. Such groups as Equality Now and CARE provide wonderful opportunities to do just that.
- In order to find and research a charity of your own, try Charity Navigator, which rates and classifies charities, and even provides reliable list of worthwhile (and even not so worthwhile) companies.
*Unfortunately, as with many acts of kindness in our current society, it’s imperative to stay vigilant and use your discretion that the organization you’re donating your monies or energy towards is a viable, transparent, honest-to-goodness, tax-exempt charity.
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