Giving Back at the Holidays

food bank rachelNow that December is upon us, many people are starting to get into the holiday spirit. For some, that means thinking about what they are thankful for during the year and wanting to pay it forward in the season of giving. Over the past year, my girls have volunteered in a few ways. Both have visited the Ottawa Food back and learned that not everyone in Ottawa has enough to eat each and every day. They've visited residents in nursing homes to play games and sing with them and have shared their allowance with the typhoon victims in the Philippines.

Giving back doesn't need to be big. It just needs to be meaningful. For kids, learning that there are people who need a helping hand is a great lesson in empathy and kindness. There are so many ways to get your kids involved. Here are a few ideas for you and you kids:

  • Donate to a charitable organization
  • Invite an elderly neighbor or someone who lives alone to join your celebration 
  • Deliver a meal to a family in need
  • Write a thoughtful note to someone special
  • Donate clothes you've outgrown
  • Donate food to a local charity or food bank
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen
  • Send a care package to a soldier
  • Visit hospital patients
  • Foster a dog or cat
  • Adopt an endangered animal through a zoo
  • Shovel snow for a neighbor
  • Help pick up trash at a local park
  • Join a church or school group that does community service projects

Giving back is a great thing to do all year round, but the holidays tend to bring out the charitable side in most people. Try some of these ideas with your family and make a difference this holiday season.

How does your family give back at the Holidays?

Giving Back at the Holidays

by Krista As my family prepares for the holiday season, we have decided to once again make a concentrated effort on helping to support those in our community who are less fortunate, and want to involve the lils as much as possible.  We feel that it is important that they see us trying to help those who are less fortunate than we are, teaching them to be giving and empathetic.  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 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 participated in the past, or investigated for this year.  Some represent a monetary donation, a donation of time, and some require both. Not all are applicable for families with young children, but I am going to try and get them involved in as many as possible! 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 be excluded or 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 too young.  If you do have children 6 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 Christmas Cheer radio-thon on CFRA.  This year’s Christmas Cheer broadcast was held on December 6th  (and has always been one of my favourites), but they have many other opportunities and events for our family to get involved listed on their site.  While it is possible for children as young as five to volunteer, there are only volunteer activities for those eighteen and older listed on the volunteer page. Contacting them directly may yield more opportunities for younger children.

The Shepherds of Good Hope as well as some local churches and houses of worship (many of Ottawa’s houses of worship are listed here) also have programs where you can “adopt” a family, and build a hamper containing food for Christmas dinner, essential goods and small gifts. 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.  The Shepherds of Good Hope has expressed that they are in great need of people to sponsor families, having had many more requests this year than they would normally fill.  When you call, you can be matched to a family that is in great need, but that meets your wishes (ie size or location).  You then contact the family representative and discuss what their needs AND wishes are.  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, churches, and community associations also get involved with food drives, charitable fundraisers like bake sales and holiday meals.  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 in preparation for the event, gathering donations, baking, cooking, or helping out at the event.  School, church, and community run events generally offer great opportunities for children of ALL ages to help out. Please check with your local school, community association, of church to see what they have planned.

There are a few institutions in Ottawa that host holiday meals in the days leading up to Christmas, starting as early as this weekend! The Mission is one that holds the meal in advance of Christmas December 16th for this year’s meal. This presents an opportunity for those looking to volunteer, but not on Christmas day.  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.  My lils and I are baking cupcakes through Cupcakes 4 Christmas again this year, our contribution to the dessert at this meal.  Please contact either of these organizations directly to see if they have further need.

A number of local restaurants and houses of worship also hold free meals for those less fortunate on Christmas day.  The Newport Restaurant in 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 directly to see how you can help out.

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 any more to a shelter (the Community Information Centre of Ottawa has a searchable database to help find shelters), 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 them for sale at low cost.

Finally, 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. Looking for other ideas? The Community Information Centre of Ottawa has compiled a GREAT list of events that are going on over the next few weeks in support of those in need, a list that highlights donations needed and how individuals can help.

Do you have any other ideas?

Krista is married to Willy and mom to a 5 year old son, Woo, and 4 year old daughter Goose. You can find her at Life in the Hutch or on Twitter @kgraydonald

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