From the time Thanksgiving approaches and every day through the New Year, I am giddy with anticipation – family and friends, meals and treats, tree and gifts, lights and decorations, movies and singing, crafts and events, pjs and cocoa! I want my children to suck up every last drop of wonder, magic, joy, and excitement out of the Holiday season! At the same time, as much as I want them to relish every moment, I do not want their focus to be solely on themselves – what they wanted and received, what they experienced and enjoyed (or even that feeling of disappointment after it’s all said and done). After all, our family celebrates Christmas in honor of Christ who came not to be served but to serve!
However, raising children who put others before themselves and serve joyfully, is something that must be instructed and modeled. This year as I think, “how can I work diligently to instill an ‘others mindset’?” I know that you might be asking the same question! So, I’m preaching to my own heart and came up with a motivating list of FAMILY FRIENDLY SERVICE IDEAS we’ve done or are eager to do:
- Ring the Salvation Army Bell (find locations and times to ring in your area)
- Put money in the Red Bucket every time you pass one!
- Before new items come into your home, take the time to go through all books, toys, clothes, and home goods and donate them to a worthy organization (definitely make this a job the kids do or can do with you)! Put on Christmas Music and make it an annual event!
- Serve a Meal at an area homeless shelter or Food Pantry (here are the volunteer opportunities for the River Food Pantry in Madison).
- Schedule a day to babysit for a single parent so they can have some time alone or do their Christmas shopping!
- For the month of December collect all spare change and dollars in a jar. At the end of the month, make a trip to a local organization and donate it (often monetary donations can provide many more goods and the dollar stretches farther for their purchases).
- Visit a Nursing Home! This would be a blast to do with friends: have the kids make cards and cookies to deliver, hand out candy canes, carol, read stories, talk, laugh! Or USE A SKILL – can you do hair? Give hand massages? Paint nails?
- Take the kids shopping for coloring books and crayons and donate them to a hospital waiting.
- Create Welcome Boxes for foster children and donate to a Foster Care Organization such as Wisconsin Department of Families and Children or Family Works Programs, Inc.
- Reach out to specific foster families and meet their needs! Most people know someone who is a foster parent (or at least know a friend of a friend). Families want their foster children to be included and loved and share in all the same experiences…but that’s expensive! Provide a meal, Christmas gifts, a Christmas event, etc. Simply ASK what would be helpful!
- Invite some people who live alone to share a meal with your family!
- Make a double batch and deliver a meal to someone in need (Not just when babies are born! We’ve received meals after miscarriage, bed rest, when my father died, the kids were sick, even when a friend knew I was just having a hard day! Each and every meal was a treasured gift that made me feel so cared for).
- Write special notes of encouragement to those who have lost a child, are struggling with infertility, are unemployed, recently overcame addiction, are battling illness, etc. Holidays can be a hard time and just knowing someone was thinking of them and took the time to send a note could make all the difference in a day!
- Run errands for the elderly/widows and help them with seasonal tasks – decorating, shoveling, cleaning, wrapping gifts, etc. Most of the time just the company is a gift!
- Buy socks, mittens, and hats to deliver to a homeless shelter!
Monetary Donations (that provide great discussion and participation):
- Instead of gifts, ask the money be donated to a certain charity on your behalf (or donate on behalf of others)
- We love looking through gift catalogs (such as World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, or Heifer International) to donate to organizations that offer the life-changing aid of food, medical treatment, clean water, education, women’s empowerment, and so on! As a family, read through the need descriptions and select opportunities you’d like to fund! Try to tangibly show your children the money that can provide these goods for those who need them.
On-Going Giving that is Fun to start NOW!
- Sponsor a child! With most organizations, you can select the child you wish to sponsor and continue to send him or her letters, pictures, drawings, etc. for the duration of your commitment! What a joy for YOUR children to have someone to write to and learn about in a different country! Again, some great, reliable organizations include: Compassion International, World Vision, and Amazima Ministries)
A Local Opportunities (I’m sure there are similar opportunities and organizations in ANY City):
- Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM) whose mission is “Preventing Homelessness, Ending Hunger” has opportunities to give/serve in order to relieve the financial burden that might otherwise come during the holiday season! This is an AWESOME organization to donate those clothes, books, home goods, as well as assemble a baking kit or participate in their Sharing Christmas Program!
I know this time of year can absolutely be stressful, busy, and exhausting! 1.) This is not a list to make you (or me) feel guilty or tack on one more thing to a schedule bursting at the seams; rather, these are ideas to expose new organizations, prompt families to come together to love others, and help children embrace the season beyond the glitz and glamour! 2.) The need to serve does not end on January 1st; if you can’t add these things in now consider a new (years) January tradition of serving after the holidays and beyond!
If you know of more great serving opportunities in our area or have done other awesome ideas with your kids, please leave them in the comments below!