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Giving back to the community

by Krista As my family embraces the holiday season, my husband and I have decided to make a concentrated effort on educating our children as to how they can help to support those in their community who are less fortunate than them, and why it is important that they do that.  We are very thankful for our happiness, health, and home, and we know that others are not as fortunate.  We want to show our children that that is not right, and that we together can do something to help.  I remember doing that with my parents when I was young, and I hope my children will grow up to remember the same.

Here is a list of a few of the ideas that we have discussed or investigated.  Some represent a monetary donation or a donation of time and some require both.   While I have small children that I want to involve, not all of them are applicable for families with young children.  I've noted age limits or restrictions where I could, but it is always best to check with the recipient of your donation to see what age is appropriate for participation.  Some will encourage the participation of little ones, but others might require that they take a limited role

The Ottawa Foodbank is a local institution that helps to feed families in need as well as supply food to shelters and other programs for their meals.  I am sure that you have seen the bins in many large grocery stores in the area.  This month, we will be targeting their "most needed list" with a donation each time we shop.  I also looked into whether we could volunteer in any capacity, but our children are way to young.  If you do have children 12 or older, you can volunteer together to do things like work in the warehouse, do office work, or work at special events. The volunteer contact information is on their website.

The Christmas Exchange also seeks to provide assistance with feeding families in need, through the Christmas hamper and store vouchers programs.  When I was a child, we used to always do Christmas baking while listening to their radio-thon on CFRA.  While the telethon has taken place, there are still opportunities and events for our family to get involved, listed on their website.  Their are volunteer activities for older youths listed on the volunteer page.

Some local churches and houses of worship also have programs where you can "adopt" a family, and build a hamper containing, food, essential goods and small gifts.  St. James United Church in the Glebe is one of those.  By contacting organizations that offer hampers (many of Ottawa's houses of worship are listed here), you can see if your family can help to build a hamper by purchasing the items they need, pack hampers and wrap gifts, or deliver hampers right before Christmas.  There are opportunities for younger children to help out in all aspects of this process, but some tasks may be more suitable than others, so please remember to let whichever organization you help out with know that the ages of your children so that you can ensure they will help out when they are volunteering.

Many local elementary, middle and high schools also get involved with food drives, charitable fundraisers and holiday meals.  Our children are not yet in school, but if you do have children in school, these drives and events provide a great opportunity to talk about those less fortunate, and why you support the activities.  You can help out by volunteering with your child, or in the school.  If they are holding a Christmas dinner, you may be able to help by cooking or serving with the child.

A number of local restaurants and houses of worship also hold free meals for those less fortunates on Christmas day or the days leading up to it.  The Newport Restaurantin Westboro is one such establishment.  They have been hosting a Christmas meal for as long as I can remember and accept all sorts of food donations, as well as need volunteers on Christmas day to help out.  The best part?  They accept volunteers of all ages!  When I called to ask what we can do to help, they told me that young children are welcome to help out, provided they can carry a plate! If you cannot make it on Christmas day, they also accept food donations in advance.  Please contact them to see how you can help out.

There are also a few institutions in Ottawa that host holiday meals. The Mission is one that holds the meal in advance of Christmas, in case you were wanting to volunteer, but unable to do so on Christmas day.  Their meal will be held on December 19th.  In addition to using volunteers on that day, they have an ongoing need throughout the month.  Youths aged fourteen and up are eligible to help out with their parents at the Mission or their events.  If your children are too young, they may still have a need for prepared foods, that you can make together.  This year, we will be baking desserts for their holiday meal.  Please contact them to see if they have further need.

In the lead up to Christmas, we will also try to bring some toys to children in need. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. One idea that I had was to go shopping as a family and pick out toys or games that our children would like, but donate them to Toy Mountain, which only accepts new toys.  The other was to clean out our toy bins, and donate the toys and books that we don't use anymore to a shelter, or church, or a thrift store.  Thrift stores, like Value Village take all sorts of donated goods, including toys, and help out lower income families by offering themfor sale at low cost.

Lastly, we will be gathering up our old snow suits to donate to the Snowsuit Fund, which will pass them on to children in need.  The children can help us with this task by gathering the pieces and matching up hats, mitts and boots, and then dropping them off with us.

December is a busy month, and I know that we are not going to be able to do all of the ideas that I listed above, but I hope to involve the children in some of the ones that we have planned.  I know that not everyone celebrates the holidays in the same way, or at the same time, but I hope these activities give you a starting off point if you are looking to help out in the community.

Do you have any other ideas?

Krista is married to Willy and mom to a 3 year old son, Woo, and 2 year old daughter Goose. You can find her at Life in the Hutch or on Twitter @kgraydonald