With the all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s very easy to get caught up in all the sales, shopping and frenzy this time of year – especially when for the first time we had stores opening on Thanksgiving.
Even I was caught up in the excitement of Black Friday (or Thursday) crowds, but it’s important to remember that while it is nice to buy something for someone who is in need, there is really no gift more precious than time that you can give to someone who is less fortunate. It’s a gift that can continue to make a difference throughout the year.
And while it’s certainly easy for one person in the household to do all of the shopping during the holidays for someone in need, there is something priceless about engaging your whole family in the process of giving back. Here at Family Centers, we’re trying to do both. While our adopt a family program is well underway, we’re also looking to bring volunteers in to get to know our clients, and feel good about the holiday season, without having to buy something.
Here are some fun ways that you can include your whole family and perhaps start a new tradition:
- Look to your local community organizations for different volunteer opportunities. You can use a searchable database like www.volunteersquare.com to see what organizations are hosting events that could use your volunteer help. Forget wrapping gifts for your family. Try to help wrapping gifts at a toy drive.
- Share a holiday classic. If you have a favorite holiday book (mine is How the Grinch Stole Christmas), see if there is a preschool or elementary school classroom where you could come in and share the story. You can add to the fun by coming up with a quick and easy project to do with the kids or leave behind for them to do in the coming weeks. I’ll be making the Grinch out of felt with a bunch of four year olds later this month.
- Promote your own “give back” day at home. Ask your spouse, your kids or your parents to clean out their closets and donate the extra gloves, hats, scarves to a local shelter or organization to make sure that everyone is warm and toasty this winter. This is also the time of year when we see many children without winter coats, so if you have one that is not on the favorite list in your house, instead of arguing about why it’s not being worn, donate it to someone who will think it’s the best coat ever!
- Adopt a family. Sure, it’s great to donate a toy here or there. But look for an organization (like Family Centers) where they are running programs designed to collect gifts for the whole family. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your children about how some families struggle to provide gifts at holiday time and ask that they come with you to do some shopping for a toy/coat, etc for a child who is their same age. They will begin to see that it feels nice to pick out that toy truck for another child who may not get it otherwise.
There is something so gratifying about helping others this time of year, but keep in mind there are a lot of people who struggle throughout the whole year, not only at holiday time. If you take some time to research an organization where you can volunteer and get started helping out on a weekly or monthly basis, you will see that your gift of time is priceless and come this time next year, you’ll have a whole new perspective on the holiday season.
About the Author: Jennifer Flatow is the Manager of Volunteer Services for Family Centers, a private, non-profit organization offering education, health and human services to children, adults and families living in Lower Fairfield County, CT. Serving Greenwich, Stamford, Darien and New Canaan, Family Centers offers 30 programs and serves more than 16,000 people each year. For information on volunteer opportunities with Family Centers, call 203-869-4848 or visit www.familycenters.org.