The holiday season is upon us once again, and so are the pressures to buy and consume more and more. Serving others tends to take a backseat.
It is difficult to teach children that this should be a season of giving, serving, and showing gratitude in a consumer-driven world. While giving (and receiving) gifts is fun, I believe it is important to show kids this isn’t the only “reason for the season.”
In the spirit of being more mindful, I’ve compiled a list of service activities you can do with your kids this holiday season. These activities will encourage them to give back, to appreciate the many blessings in their own lives, and start a lifelong habit of service to others. These cost little to nothing but can spread so much joy to others.
Bake cookies and deliver to your neighbors.
As a military family, we move often; I’ve been guilty of not taking the time to get to know my neighbors more than once. I am making it a goal to bake more and have my son help me deliver it to those around us. Building a community is imperative wherever you land, and it doesn’t need to be hard. This is also one of the more delicious service activities you and your family can try!
Keep $5 Starbucks gift cards on hand to treat someone to a coffee.
Let your kids take the lead on this one. Ask them who they think could use a pick-me-up. It could be a teacher, a coach, or the delivery man bringing packages in the freezing cold. Everyone enjoys a treat and small acts of kindness can go a long way.
Create kits for the homeless.
Collect items into a reusable bag to keep in your car. These kits can be distributed as needed! Some items you may want to include: personal hygiene items, gloves, socks (the most requested item), snack foods, reusable water bottles, hand warmers, and gift cards they can use at restaurants. Have your kids write a personal note or picture. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity.
Organize a warm clothing drive.
Have your own family collect any gently used warm clothes. Now take it a step further. Have your kids ask their friends, and ask yours too. Collect items and donate them to a homeless shelter, a women’s shelter (particularly baby and kid items), or a refugee center. Remember, there are many in our communities who go without proper attire in the cold weather or others who may have fled a situation with only the clothes on their back.
Collect towels, blankets, and bedding for an animal shelter.
Just like their human counterparts, the cold is hard on animals, particularly those housed in shelters. Odds are you have linens on hand that you aren’t using that a shelter pet would greatly appreciate. As someone who has worked for years in animal rescue, I can tell you that animal charities are often the last to receive funding, especially during the holiday giving “rush.” Don’t forget about our four-legged friends and the hardworking individuals who care for them!
Buy toys for a children’s hospital.
Kids love to pick out toys for their friends. Plus, who better than our own children to let us know what other kids would like? They are the perfect shoppers for this category! Take your kids to pick out toys to donate to your local children’s hospital and brighten the day of a child spending the holidays away from home. Keep in mind that most hospitals require new toys for donation but many other organizations will accept gently used toys.
Adopt a child (or family) for Christmas.
Many schools, churches, or military organizations will have opportunities to “adopt” a family for the holidays. This is a great way to teach your kids about blessing others and that giving is always better than receiving.
Participate in Wreaths Across America.
Each year, national cemeteries lay wreaths on the graves of those buried there. They look for volunteers to help in the process. This would be a great service activity for older kids. If you do not live in an area with a National Cemetery look for other opportunities to volunteer in your community. Local veteran groups would be a great resource. Visit Wreaths Across America for more information.
Donate books to the USO.
Many airports or military bases have USO outposts that serve military members and their families as they travel. Ask your local branch for donation needs. Many accept books to keep on hand to help those traveling pass the time. Children’s books also come in handy because military family members can also utilize USO facilities. Visit their website to find local chapters and volunteer opportunities in your area.
Ask for donations in lieu of gifts.
Most of us already have more than we need. This year, consider making a donation in honor of someone rather than giving a gift they probably don’t need. Ask relatives to do the same in return. If you do decide to purchase gifts, use companies with a philanthropic mission or those that donate portions of profits. This makes gift-giving much more meaningful.
Hopefully, these suggestions are helpful to you. Even if you can only do one or two of these service-related activities, it could make a huge impact to someone in need. You also get the benefit of teaching your children that there is more to the holiday season than presents, something we should all remember this season.