Eighteen years ago I began an annual Christmas tradition that to this day still means more to me than holiday decorations, cookie parties or Christmas carols. I chose a family, 3 girls all under the age of 5, to provide with Christmas gifts. Puffy pink jackets, purple shoes and dolls were just some of the fun and exciting girl presents I was able to purchase with my own hard earned money for the first time in my life.
These little girls with rhyming names never knew where these things came from, but for once in their young lives they were able to experience the magical moments of a Christmas morning with gifts under the tree.
This experience which came with little acknowledgment or accolades has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The satisfaction of seeing their little faces light up when they returned to school after Christmas break wearing some of the only new clothes they’d likely ever received, in colors they loved, and hearing them talk about their gifts from Santa was heart-warming.
Here are some tips on Holiday Gifting to the less fortunate and how you can include your kids:
Talk to Your Kids
The first thing to do is to have a conversation with your children about those less-fortunate than themselves. Depending on the area you live in and the age of your children this likely makes a difference in whether your kids are familiar with homelessness and poverty. Your personal views on how much to share with them matters here.
The schools in which I have chosen to educate my children have a very diverse population and we also live in a city with a very large, very obvious homeless population. While I may downplay my responses to many of their very pointed questions, my kids are well aware that some children don’t get to live with their parents and not everyone is fortunate enough to have a roof over their head or a bed to sleep in every night, muchless a pile of presents on Christmas.
While the questions may arise with young children about why the less-fortunate are not getting anything from Santa, I usually deflect this by pointing out all of the other people we receive gifts from who others may not be lucky enough to have in their lives. I also add how frequently we get new clothes, shoes, or school supplies as needed that others may not.
Decide Financially How Much You Can Afford to Spend.
This is important because you don’t want to overcommit yourself, especially at Christmas time which can be stressful and hectic enough. You also do not want to disappoint your own family or the family or group you have selected to provide with gifts. Evaluating your finances is a big deal because many Americans overspend during the holidays as it is and you want this to be a positive experience, not something that burdens you well into the New Year.
Think About the Level of Involvement You Wish to Have with the Families.
You also need to decide whether you want the families you are gifting to know it was you or whether you want to donate anonymously. When it comes to gifts for children you would likely never let the your kids or the other children know where the gifts were coming from because it is just not appropriate, especially with young children who hopefully are still whimsical enough to believe in Santa.
For example: I usually a family through my children’s school. The school then provide me with clothing and shoe sizes for all the kids in the family, along with any specific needs and ideas on brands or characters the children might be interested in. I drop the presents off to the parents while the kids are at school (most of them don’t own cars) along with tape, scissors, and a few rolls of wrapping paper so that the parent can participate in and plan their children’s Christmas too.
Target Your Gift-Giving to the Groups that Matter Most to You.
Like it or not there are plenty of groups in need right here in this country, especially over the holidays. Everyone deserves to feel just a bit of joy during this time and when it comes to gift-giving there is no wrong way. Here are a few ways to give that may fit your budget, your schedule, or simply your lifestyle:
- Donate to an Established Charity
- Angel Trees at Church
- Toys for Tots
- Foster Care Agencies
- Local Charitable or Non-Profit Groups
Over the holidays these organizations are always looking for a multitude of items for the families they assist regularly and the families who have applied for assistance over Christmas. Share with your children the list of wanted or needed items and allow them to go shopping with you to pick up the gifts, then simply drop off to the specified location and rest assured you have helped make some child or teenager’s Christmas just a little (or a lot) brighter.
- Donate to an Adult Organization
- Veteran’s Groups
- Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly & Disabled
- Homeless Shelters
- Domestic Violence Shelters
Many of the individuals in these facilities may or may not have any family and as adults are so frequently forgotten or overlooked during the holidays. Simple donations such as socks, underwear, slippers, puzzle books, candy, cookies and other sweet treats are often much appreciated by these individuals at Christmas. Again, taking your child shopping somewhere as simple as a dollar store and allowing them to select some of these items can get them into the spirit of giving to others.
- Donate Food
Whether canned goods or full Christmas meals, you and your kids can literally grocery shop for another family. Rather than simply writing a check or telling the grocery store clerk that you will sponsor a family, find a group whereby you and your child can select the items that will go to the family in need making it a more hands-on and memorable time. Alternatively, if your children are tweens or teens, take them to volunteer in a soup kitchen or shelter to prepare a meal for the homeless as I guarantee you this will be an eye-opening experience.
- Donate Gently Used Toys and Clothes
Helping others does not have to be a budget-breaking task and frequently local Junior Leagues or church groups will accept gently used toys and clothes to be re-gifted during the holidays. Ask your children to help you clean out the playroom or toy closet and donate the toys (with all the pieces of course) that they may have played with once or outgrown. Do the same with their clothes and shoes as this is a great time to purge your closets and toys chests with the idea of donating to those less-fortunate as motivation.
- Adopt a Family
Obviously the largest commitment both financially and time-wise, pre-plan for a more enjoyable experience. Similar to planning your own Christmas activities find out ahead of time whether you are providing a tree, a meal or just gifts. Also, make sure you know how many children, their sizes, ages, likes and dislikes.
Decide whether you are providing toys, or if there is a serious need for something specific like shoes or a winter coat. It is usually a good idea to provide at least one package of socks, underwear, toothpaste, a new toothbrush and shampoo or bubble bath for each child. Finally, gather up your children and go shopping. This can really be a fun and exciting Christmas tradition for you all!
Unlike shopping for your own family members, which is usually impossible, being able to shop for those less-fortunate is easy and enlightening because you can select gifts knowing that you will be making someone else’s holiday truly memorable.
Christmas is all about making memories with our families and this year make yours truly memorable by doing something for the less-fortunate. Throughout the year we all suffer our own trials and tribulations, it is not easy for anyone, but for most of us, at the end of the day, we get to go home to a cozy bed, a hot meal, and our snuggly littles. Be thankful for all you have been given this year and share the LOVE.
Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula, Pixabay