So far, I’ve covered two very hands-on types of volunteerism (Part One – food and Part Two – friendly visiting). This third and final installment of the holiday volunteering spiel revolves around seasonal giving.
When we think about giving during the holiday season, I think most people think about the gifts they will give their children and families. We daydream about the most memorable holiday gifts we received as kids – a new bike, perhaps, or the American Girl doll we had pined for all year. Whether you plan to nestle gifts under the tree to open on Christmas morning or you are finding eight gifts to be opened, one each night, during Hanukkah, I think it’s safe to say that the holidays don’t feel like the real deal without gifts being exchanged for most families.
Something I have already found to be so meaningful when it comes to creating volunteer-based family traditions is teaming up with a local nonprofit to sponsor gifts for a family during the holiday season. We go shopping as a family to choose gifts that we will give to strangers we will never meet. Although Little C was only 7 months old last year, we spent an afternoon shopping and talking about why we were picking out each item and why it was important (so if you saw a crazy woman in Target having an in-depth discussion about holiday giving with a spit-up clad baby who hadn’t the faintest idea what she was talking about, that was probably me). This year, it’s clear that Little C understands much more of what I say, but within a year or two, I know he will really understand the concepts of sharing with others.
There are two nation-wide programs that are excellent avenues to give and ensure that your donation will reach the hands of a child in need:
The United States Postal Service (USPS) runs a program each year called Letters to Santa. You visit your local post office and select the “letter” you wish to sponsor. Then you shop and bring your gift back to the post office, where you’ll pay to ship it directly to the recipient’s home. The program is run completely anonymously, so it preserves the dignity of the recipients, and because of the nature of the wishlist sent to Santa Claus, you know that the gift you are purchasing is exactly what the child wants.
Another well-known nation-wide program is the United States Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program. Volunteers from the Marine Corp and from the community collect new, unwrapped toys throughout the months of October, November and December to distribute to children in need, and each local community operates its own collection and distribution. Across the country, Babies ‘R Us and Toys ‘R Us stores serve as drop-off locations. Again, the program ensures anonymity of its recipients, and because you are not constrained to a request list, you can purchase and donate any new toy.
A third option is seeking out local agencies in your area that run similar programs, either strictly for children or for entire families. The program we participate in each year specifically opts to include their adult clients as well as their families with children, and here is why: for people who are struggling to make ends meet, who worry about where their next meal with come from or how they will pay their rent, there is never any spare money for non-essentials. When they first ran the program, the adults couldn’t even fathom what to request for a gift. They were asking for the most simple items that all of us take for granted – a new cooking pot, a fresh set of sheets or towels, new socks and underwear, dress clothes to wear to a job interview, gas and grocery gift cards. Most of these items are things that I wouldn’t hesitate to throw into my cart at Target (oy, there I go rambling on about Target again). Local programs are often advertised through local avenues like radio stations and newspapers, but if you reach out to any local agency that serves kids, they will happily tell you if they have a program (many do) and if not, they’ll likely have referrals.
There you have it, hive. Lots and lots of information about seasonal volunteering! Aside from sponsoring a family, we haven’t set up any specific projects yet, but I’m hoping to take my own advice and start scheduling while there is still availability at my local agencies.
Are you interested in volunteering with your family this holiday season?
2. Volunteering with Kids: Holiday Edition, Part Two by Mrs. Confetti
3. Volunteering with Kids: Holiday Edition, Part Three by Mrs. Confetti