As a kid, I was pretty blessed. My fridge was full and my toy box was overflowing — and the holidays were an event. Gifts were piled below and beside our tree. But all that changed in the summer of 1995, when my father lost his job and we lost our house. Then, 11 months later, he suddenly passed from a ruptured brain aneurysm. But thanks to the generosity of others, my brother and I made it. My family remained fed, happy, healthy and clothed. But of course not everyone is as fortunate.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 41 percent of America’s youth were living in or on the brink of poverty in 2016, and millions more were homeless. These children and their families need donations to survive. For this reason — and countless others — I work diligently to instill humility and empathy in my children. We donate clothes quarterly, make monetary contributions to various charities regularly, and upcycle old, gently-used toys twice a year.
Here are eight ways you, too, can teach your kids to give back this holiday season — starting now.
1. Send cards to kids in hospitals or soldiers overseas
Being away from home is trying, but it can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. But a short, handwritten note or brightly colored drawing can liven someone’s mood and even alleviate their homesickness — so help your kids team up with your local hospital or the American Red Cross to create and send some cards. The ARC even has a Holiday for Heroes program that helps pair card-making kids with active service members, veterans and their families.
2. Make care packages to help feed and clothe the less fortunate
Canned food drives are common. From cardboard boxes in school lobbies to Sunday service collections, many organizations accept shelf-stable food year-round. But did you know those living in (or on the edge of) poverty need countless other essentials, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, tampons and pads, toilet paper, Band-Aids, and socks. So take your kiddo on a shopping spree and then create “care packages,” complete with a card or note.
3. Collect gently used clothing items for donation
Are your closets and dressers overflowing? Have some garments gone unworn … or are they unopened? Whatever the case may be, the holiday season is a great time for you and your kids to go through your pants, dresses, blouses, handbags and T-shirts piles and donate gently used items to area churches or shelters.
4. Play Santa through Operation Santa
Looking for a fun way to give back this Christmas season? Well, consider helping the big, jolly dude out. The USPS’s Operation Santa program connects less fortunate kids with deserving donors, who then help fulfill their wish list. Plus, your kids can get in on the action by helping to select (and shop for) a child or family in need, making them honorary elves.
5. Bake sweets and treats for elderly neighbors and civil servants
Baking is a popular holiday pastime. So why not share the love? Bake up a few extra batches and give them out to elderly neighbors and/or civil servants.
6. Shop for (and give) gifts to children in need
Most of us know about Toys for Tots. The 75-year-old program has collected and distributed millions of toys to children in need. And while dropping items in collection bins is an amazing way to contribute to this cause, I personally like to let my littles shop, too. This way they can pick out something special and really feel like they are making a difference. You can also do this on a big scale, by donating through organizations like Toys for Tots, or on your local level. Many communities and churches rally around families struggling and have wish lists outlining what area children want and/or need.
7. Have your kid clean out their toy box
Can’t afford to buy a new set of LEGO or LOL Surprise? Have your kids go through their own books, toy bins and games. Donating gently used toys can bring happiness to others and remind your own children how #blessed they may be.
8. Explore “micro-volunteering” opportunities
Another inexpensive way to give back this holiday season is to have your children spread love through micro-acts of kindness. For example, your little can give thank-you notes to trash collectors and crossing guards and/or help a neighbor carry their groceries. Doing Good Together has a 30 Days of Kindness Challenge and dozens of great ideas.
9. Teach your child the importance of earning and giving
If your child earns an allowance, you can teach them the importance of giving early on by having them donate a certain percentage of their earnings to a cause that they find important.
10. Talk to your child about hunger and other social issues.
The folks at Feeding America tell SheKnows that it’s crucial to talk to kids about how hunger impacts families across the country. “Inspire them to take action,” a Feeding America spokesperson urges parents, “because everyone — even kids — can help.”
Feeding America offers a Family Action Plan with fun activities to help you raise the subject with your kids and get them involved. “Some easy ways to fight hunger as a family include starting a donation jar,” the spokesperson recommends, “learning about hunger by watching one of Feeding America’s videos…or even starting a family garden and donating the excess produce.”
A version of this story was originally published in November 2019.
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