For all the years my husband and I have been together, he’s never been a fan of the holidays. Well, more specifically, Christmas. In fact, he’s downright Scrooge-ish. Last year I finally got annoyed enough to ask him what his issue was. Childhood baggage? The work that goes into decorating? The pine needles all over the house?
He had to think about it for a few minutes and then he told me that he doesn’t like Christmas because it confuses him. He gets angry that so much of the focus is on buying endless amounts of crap, yet he gets teary every time he sees the US Marines Toys for Tots commercial. Being the psychoanalyzer I am, I had to think about this for a little bit, and then I realized what was bugging him. He hates how commercialized the holiday has become.
So last year we made a change in our own house. Rather than just purchasing one gift, we devoted two weekends to volunteering as a family (not including the baby, of course). We had always done things like purchase for the toy drives and donated outgrown hats, coats and mittens, but we’d never done “on the ground” volunteering as a family. Turns out that, not only did it help him get over her Christmas grumpies, it was fun and it was also a huge lesson for our oldest daughter.
The only problem I had initially was finding a volunteering opportunity that we could do as a family. If you’re considering doing something like this, here’s three places to get you started.
The Salvation Army: No, not ringing bells (though that’s an admirable way to volunteer and could certainly be done as a family), but packing toys brought in by the toy drive. Each year the Salvation Army collects thousands of toys that need to be sorted by age and gender-appropriateness and then packaged into boxes and bags to hand out to the families using the service. This was what we chose to do. I called our local Salvation Army office and asked what we needed to do to take a few shifts. I had to fill out a few forms for our family and then we were assigned two Saturday shifts, both were about three hours each.
For our oldest daughter, this was an eye-opening experience. Not only did she she see how much stuff was donated when the economy was in such a rut, but she handed packages to families that came to pick up gifts. For months she talked about how surprised she was that the families struggling looked just like ours…drove the same kinds of cars, wore the same kinds of clothes, etc. In her mind, there was no way possible that people who could be our neighbors might need help during the holidays. In fact, she was so moved by this experience that she organized a group of kids on her swim team to volunteer for a weekend as well.
The Department of Health and Human Services: I actually found out about this by accident when I was looking for a place to donate used baby clothes. DHHS, unfortunately, places hundreds of children in foster care every year and while these children are often those that you see on the “giving trees” at the mall, they have other basic needs that they’d rather not receive as gifts. Warm socks, a new sweatshirt, yummy smelling shower gel.
I recommend doing this in a two-fold kind of way. First, designate a day where everyone in the house goes through the closets and pulls out everything that doesn’t fit or is no longer played with (this includes you too mom and dad â€” teenagers are often wearing adult-sized clothing). Pack it all up (it doesn’t need to be sorted by size, just laundered first) and then head to your local big box or discount store and, as a family, pick up a few new things to add to the pile. They don’t need to be expensive gifts. Perhaps give everyone a budget of $10 or $15 dollars. Then go to DHHS and have the family help carry it all in.
Meals on Wheels: This is a different kind of volunteering opportunity all together. Meals on Wheels is a national organization that is constantly on the lookout for drivers to deliver meals to the elderly in the community. These are often folks who have few family members nearby and they are glad to see a smiling face every few days; they especially love smiling children! The reason I say this is a different kind of volunteering opportunity is because it opens the door to discussions you might not otherwise have. Many Meals on Wheels organizations reimburse for mileage and though many volunteers do not take the reimbursement, you may choose to accept it and have your children decide where to donate that money.
Do you have other ways to volunteer as a family? Let us know about them!
photo credit Flickr/blossominc