How to help others this Holiday season?
November 29, 2005 7:49 PM   Subscribe

My kids (12, 10, 8 yrs.) have decided they don't want Christmas gifts this year and would like to do something for those in need. I'm thrilled. Aside from working in a Food Bank or 'adopting a family' any other ideas?
posted by pman78 to Religion & Philosophy (33 answers total)
Habitat for Humanity projects? Visiting kids at your local children's hospital?
posted by availablelight at 7:51 PM on November 29, 2005

I believe there are organisations to which you can donate gifts that go to children in orphanages (my school used to donate to one in Romania). Perhaps get your kids to choose a gift that they want sent?
posted by djgh at 7:53 PM on November 29, 2005

I like the idea of travelling somewhere else to do a community service project as a family. Someone I know recently travelled from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley to participate in a Habitat for Humanity build. She met a lot of cool people (both community members and other volunteers) and had a great time doing something really cool. Plus, it's always great to expose kids to new sights and people.
posted by lalalana at 7:56 PM on November 29, 2005

Was this without any motivation whatsoever from you or any of their elders? They all just said "we don't want anything for Christmas" out of the blue? If not, and I'm getting a strong feeling that its not, as you are thrilled about it, I would not suggest listening to what they said.
posted by mhuckaba at 8:00 PM on November 29, 2005

I'm rather fond of Heifer, and kids seem to like the idea of donating animals.
posted by holloway at 8:03 PM on November 29, 2005

I did Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with my Big Sister girls a few years back; we went to the Dollar Store and pimped our shoeboxes out! It's a Christian organization (under Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham), so if you have a problem with that....
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:05 PM on November 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

How do you bring up children like that?
posted by wilful at 8:06 PM on November 29, 2005

Response by poster: No mhuckaba, it came out of the blue from my daughter (the youngest @ 8 yrs.) who when asked what she wanted for Christmas, said something along the lines of "....I think i have everything i want, I'd like to give some money or help someone else.' and then reaffirmed it 3 days later. The boys agreed as well. My wife and I were surprised (and I said) although my daughter had a bd. party 2 years ago and asked that her friends bring a donation to Children's Wish rather than a gift, so this 'charitable nature' has been seen before.
posted by pman78 at 8:13 PM on November 29, 2005

Child's Play is a nice seasonal charity, all about donating toys to childrens' hospitals; they might like to sit down with you and pick something out for the comfort of kids in unpleasant holiday situations.

Also, regardless of what they say, get them something anyway. Good kids. :)
posted by Drastic at 8:13 PM on November 29, 2005

*agrees sorta with mhuckaba*

While it's very likely the kids do feel strongly about charity (a wonderful idea, by the way), I wonder if they also have other thoughts as well. Does your post imply they 100% agree on not getting *any* gifts? Or perhaps they still believe (in the back of their minds at least; they *are* children afterall) that Santa will at least bring them *some* stuff.

I'm pretty sure most kids follow a simple punishment/reward behavior pattern when they are young... and it could cause some disappointment if they are expecting a reward for their generous charity idea, yet on Dec 25, feel sad if there's none or few gifts.

Sure, christmas is terribly commercial and it's probly a good thing to encourage some nice non-commercial, non-"Gift me!!!" behavior... but kids are kids...
however, you know your kids better than us.

anyways, as for charity. I know the comic is NSF-kids, but penny arcade has their annual Child's Play charity drive where you can buy and donate (online, via a nifty deal between them and amazon) games, toys, and even some educational stuff to needy kids at Childrens Hospitals (nationwide this year, not just in the Seattle area).

but I worry that seeing so many toys might cause your kids to change their minds :)

best of luck to you all.
posted by johnstein at 8:20 PM on November 29, 2005

thanks for summarizing my post in 3 lines, Drastic :)

*sees preview button* hmm... wonder what that does.. hmmm
posted by johnstein at 8:22 PM on November 29, 2005

Not at all. The addendum that you DON'T want to sit them down and show them Penny Arcade itself is a good and right addition. :)
posted by Drastic at 8:23 PM on November 29, 2005

I know some kids who did one of those toys for tots programs where they got the profile of a needy child, then shopped for that kid and donated the results to an organization that distributes the gifts. It was a lot of fun to go shopping with the kids and get them to think about things that a kid who didn't have nice clothes or toys would want. Most malls have trees that will let you pick a child from hanging ornaments and shop for that kid.

I agree that you should still get something for your children, though, even if it's scaled back from what you would normally do.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:28 PM on November 29, 2005

Response by poster: We *will* get them something for sure. As johnstein says, they are kids after all. And, yes we do know them. But this will be the year that excess will not prevail me thinks. We're in Toronto so the Child's Play idea run via Sick Kids Hospital is good. Can't say enough about Sick Kids.
posted by pman78 at 8:49 PM on November 29, 2005

Working in a food rescue program was one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had. Your options may be limited, given their ages, but I'd suggest at least looking into food-related programs as I think something concrete ("I prepared/delivered/participated in giving food to people in my community who needed it.") may be more valuable for them than some of the other chraitable ideas.
posted by VulcanMike at 8:51 PM on November 29, 2005

By "other charitable ideas" I was referring more to Heifer than Child's Play -- but the value of donating time is certainly one to consider.
posted by VulcanMike at 8:53 PM on November 29, 2005

I don't have a specific recommendation, but something experiential (like availablelight's suggestions) is going to be a better take-away for them than just "not getting presents" (or even just "giving presents away").
posted by zanni at 8:55 PM on November 29, 2005

Serving food at a homeless shelter with my girl scout troop was one of those mega-eye-opening experiences of my childhood. I think I was only eight or nine at the time, too. Maybe showing up with a couple grocery bags and volunteering to cook and serve?
posted by kalimac at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2005

Heifer and Child's Play are by far my votes for this situation. As kalimac suggests, something in-person might be good as well -- both eye-opening and more immediately and directly rewarding.

What great kids. Congratulations.
posted by librarina at 9:00 PM on November 29, 2005

Have them create their own fundraising project - get neighbours to pay them to shovel snow off their driveways (or mow their lawn, whatever is climatalogically appropriate), a lemonade/hot chocolate stand, a something-a-thon they can get sponsorships for. They will probably feel really cool donating money that they themselves raised, rather than it just being their parents money.

(Also, the sponsor-a-kid-in -a-developing-county schemes might be especially interesting and rewarding, since you get the ongoing excitement of sending and receiving letters and photos.)
posted by Kololo at 9:37 PM on November 29, 2005

Give the gift of goats:

What I especially like about them is that they teach the family animal husbandry, teach the family some basic business skills, and then require the family to teach others. You end up with entire villages creating microenterprises using their livestock.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 PM on November 29, 2005

As someone who was served by Sick Kids, I say go for that.
posted by aclevername at 10:26 PM on November 29, 2005

And get your kids some good stuff for Christmas anyway, they especially deserve it.
posted by robbie01 at 10:35 PM on November 29, 2005

my family (also Canadian ;-) ) is planning a similar thing for Christmas this year. We're still trying to decide what cause/relief effort we want to support, but I think we've agreed to do homemade/inexpensive gifts (if any) to allow us to make a financial contribution to people who need the help more than we need gifts.
posted by purplefiber at 10:38 PM on November 29, 2005

I suggest the International Daisy Fund, a charity that helps the families of children with retinoblastoma (an eye cancer that affects babies and children). One of the ways this charity helps is by paying to bring children from third world countries to Canada where they can receive the best care possible. To get an idea of how they help, read the story here.
Since you live in Toronto, you might even be able to visit the clinic at Sick Kids.
(full disclosure, I work in the retinoblastoma field. These kids are amazing and so full of hope, even when they're so far from home and going through round after round of chemotherapy)
posted by nprigoda at 3:41 AM on November 30, 2005

Instead of choosing for them, invest some time in a conversation with each one where you can learn more about their feelings. Chances are, this choice was inspired by recent events either in your community or in the world -- perhaps they've spent time thinking about a specific situation and would be comforted to do something towards helping those affected. Despite worthy international NGOs and well-known funds, are there individuals in your community, church or school that your children are attached to? Perhaps their gift of service can be spent with someone they're already familiar with and concerned about. Making the gift anonymous in some way might also lend some adventure and mystery to the experience -- intrigue that they might enjoy.

I remember worrying a great deal about other people when I was a child, and think that on some level the activity or cause you engage their resources in should provide something to help them each feel more secure in their own lives and their ability to make a difference in other people's as well.

Opting for an experience where you travel as a family to a destination that then involves volunteer work is grand, creating an experience and memory to take away from the season. Perhaps even larger is finding a way to incorporate giving and service in your lives throughout the year. Make a cash gift to each of your children into a bank account that they too can contribute to and make charitable gifts from. The trip to the bank will likely be exciting for some -- it'll help them to feel grown up and it'll give bank folks an opportunity to interact and praise them for their generosity, external feedback from non-family members could be very gratifying for them.

Purplefiber's suggestion of handmade gifts is great. Perhaps for the big day, each child could receive art or craft supplies that can be used to make each other a gift for New Year's?
posted by cior at 6:30 AM on November 30, 2005

The one time I went to a shelter on Christmas Day to help fix some computers, I was sent home with food because they had too much. People had been generous in their donations. I'm not sure if I have specific suggestions [I like the Heifer Project, and Habitat for Humanity] but if you're interested in a service project you might want to wait until sometime after Christmas proper when the Christmas spirit has waned and needy people are still in the same straits as they were during the holiday season. In the meantime, you should all read about Bill McKibben's $100 Christmas idea where everyone in their church agrees to spend $100 total on family Christmas gifts and then focuses on spending the day together as families, enjoying nature etc. It's always been my favorite low-cost Xmas plan.
None of us is under any illusions; we know that turning the focus of Christmas back to Christ is a long and patient effort, one that works against every force that consumer culture can muster. But to judge from our own holidays in recent years, it's well worth the effort. I know what we'll be doing Christmas morning: After we open our stockings and exchange our few homemade gifts, we'll go out for a hike. Following the advice of St. Francis of Assisi, who said that even the birds deserve to celebrate this happy day, we'll spread seed hither and yon -- and for one morning the chickadees and the jays will have it easy. And then we'll head back inside to the warm and fragrant kitchen and start basting the turkey, shaping the rolls, mashing the potatoes.

Some things are sacred.
posted by jessamyn at 6:35 AM on November 30, 2005

World Vision Gift Catalog.. everything from $35 gifts (a few less, I am sure) to educate a child for a year, up to $18k+ options of drilling a deep well for a drough community of 300+ people..
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2005

Wow. You're doing something right.

I recommend Unicef or another child related charity.

That Bill McKibben article is great. You may already do this, but it would be nice to spend some time as a family making gifts for each other, and making decorations, especially a gingerbread house. I would respect their wishes to not get gifts, but I would at least do stocking gifts and maybe a family gift of a game everyone could play.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on November 30, 2005

This isn't directly related to kids, but a lot of people will say "I don't want gifts", etc, but then feel a tinge of disappointment if they don't get any. If your kids certainly don't want any, and do the volunteering, it'd be an extremely good idea to make sure they have some small presents (say, no more than $100 value between them) in case they get that tinge of sadness or regret afterwards. Or.. take them out for a bumper meal as a reward, etc. Children won't feel a reward from charity in the same way us adults can..
posted by wackybrit at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2005

Your kids might have fun organizing their own charity. A family I know runs an annual clothing drive which puts warm coats on the backs of homeless people. They make kits consisting of flyers, posters and boxes for local businesses and organizations willing to act as collection points and also arrange for the pick up of the full boxes (this would be your job I guess though your kids' ingenuity may be as enormous as their generosity.) It should be easy enough to find a charity which can distribute the clothes. Even if they only collect ten coats, they have made ten people warmer than they were before. Congrats to all of you.
posted by firstdrop at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2005

New York Cares runs a "Winter Wishes" program - where needy kids (identified by their program managers or teachers) write letters to Santa and you get to fulfill them. It's incredibly rewarding. You can sign up at (and you don't have to live in NYC to do it as it's all by mail).

Your kids might really enjoy shopping for other kids and making a direct difference. If your little one still believes in Santa (and you don't want him/her to see a Santa letter coming to your house) you can request a "Teen" letter. These are not addressed to Santa.

I keep the drawing that came with my first letter on the wall of my office - to remind me to be grateful.
posted by AuntLisa at 5:58 PM on November 30, 2005

Wow... you've got great kids.

I say you definitely adopt one family. I've done it before... you will form a lasting bond for life.

Also, reward your kids, even though they didn't ask for it. Take a family day-trip sometime before Christmas. Buy them a little something, go skating, catch a play/movie...

Again, you've got great kids. Takes a great parent to do that.
posted by bamassippi at 8:30 PM on November 30, 2005

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