There are few things in life that come close to giving me the same fulfillment, happiness, and meaning as giving to others.
Growing up, my mom made it a point to bring us with her to St. Vincent De Paul to drop off Thanksgiving meals, and as a newlywed couple, my husband and I served up turkey and mashed potatoes to the many homeless veterans in downtown Boston. From volunteering at humane societies to donating to homes for children seeking refuge from abuse, we have made giving our time and resources to those in need a pillar of who we are as a family. The beauty of philanthropy is that while on the outside it looks as though you’re sacrificing your time or money, spiritually, you’re actually getting so much more in return from the experience.
Robert Ingersoll once said, “We rise by lifting others.” It’s a message I keep in the forefront of my boys’ life mantras, and one that’s particularly important during the holiday season when there’s so much need. Instilling a charitable spirit in your children, in turn, teaches them gratitude for the beauty and blessings in their own lives. It allows them to see the glass half full and keep perspective when the going gets tough. Do we have food on our plates? A roof over our heads? Love in our hearts? Yes. Then we are OK.
Over the years I’ve engaged my boys in various activities to practice gratitude and teach them how blessed they are and why it’s important to give. Here are five simple tested and tried ideas that anyone can do this holiday season with their littles:
1. Ring the bell, simplified. I’d always wanted to have my kids ring the bell for Salvation Army, but the difficulty with this is the shifts you sign up for are several hours long, which is difficult when they’re young. This past year we made friends with our local Walmart bell ringer. After chatting during a few visits to shop, we asked him if he’d mind us coming back for an hour after dinner to help him gather donations. We showed up with Christmas music on a bluetooth speaker and dressed in holiday jammies and Santa hats. My boys danced, rang the bell, handed out candy canes, and gathered more donations in that one hour than our volunteer had probably made all week. Cars were pulling over handing $20 out the window, because who doesn’t love seeing cute little kids dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock” in pajamas? The kids got the experience, and the organization made a little extra money.
2. Drop a brown bag lunch. You’re packing lunches for your own children each night anyway, right? Why not pack a few extras. The next time you’re driving through town and happen to see a homeless person asking for help, your kids can hand them a packed lunch through the car window. We’ve been handing out lunches for over a year now, and the experience has been nothing but positive for those we help and my boys.
3. Carol for a cause. Again, nothing cuter than little kids singing and botching the lyrics to your favorite holiday song, right? Grab a box of candy canes, head door to door, and ask neighbors for a small donation for a song. Then your kids can take the money raised and donate it to their favorite holiday cause.
4. Pay off a layaway. There’s a misconception that to pay off a layaway for a family you have to spend a ton of money. That’s simply not the case. Some stores, like Burlington Coat Factory, will allow you to donate as much as you’d like, and they’ll distribute it to accounts that still have balances. We did this last year, and my boys were thrilled knowing families will have their gifts.
5. Make deserving tails wag. Our family comes from a long line of animal lovers, and my boys enjoy making special treats for the shelter dogs in the area. While chocolate is toxic for dogs, white chocolate is safe because there’s no cacao in it. We pick up a big box of milk bones, dip the ends in white chocolate, and wrap them up for the animals in various rescue groups.
However you choose to give back this holiday, instilling a charitable spirit in your children is a gift that will last them a lifetime and make a positive difference in the lives of others. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?