The holiday season seems to get longer and more hectic each year. As a parent, and as an advocate for family service, I try to remind myself to slow down, savor the moments and incorporate small acts of kindness, generosity and service into the holidays to make them special and meaningful. I realized long ago that my kids won't remember the "must-have" toy but they'll cherish the time our family spent together doing good for others, sharing the true spirit of the holiday season.
Halloween kicks things off with the fun and sweetness of candy - and lots of it! As you sit amongst the piles in early November, consider donating some of your leftover candy to Operation Gratitude, which creates care packages for our active duty military and veterans. Ask your kids to make colorful cards of gratitude and appreciation to send along with the candy. And once Halloween is over, consider donating your gently used costumes to a foster care agency or an under-resourced school in your community.
November brings Thanksgiving, the perfect holiday for gratitude and service. It is a tradition-filled time full of opportunities to help others and appreciate the comforts of home, food and family. Hunger and food insecurity are difficult challenges faced by people in every community. Volunteering with your kids at an organization that feeds the hungry is a great way to honor a day of feasting. It may be hard to find time on the day itself, but most nonprofits begin preparations for Thanksgiving well in advance. Your kids can create colorful Thanksgiving cards, hand-print turkeys, paper placemats or delivery bags for donation to your local meals-on-wheels program, food pantry or soup kitchen. If your budget allows, donate non-perishable food, frozen turkeys or grocery store gift cards to the food pantry, and ask if you and your kids can help to stock the shelves. If you'd like to make a financial donation to your local hunger organization or to a national nonprofit like No Kid Hungry or Feeding America, ask your children to go through your own pantry and count up all of the items he or she finds there. Then donate some amount (a penny, a nickel, a dollar - whatever you can afford) for each item.
The mad dash to the end of year "giving" holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa the Feast of St. Nicholas and Three Kings Day, among others) is filled with shopping, baking, wrapping and parties. Charitable giving and acts of kindness may, understandably, fall to the bottom of the to-do list. But if you make a commitment to create new service traditions around the holiday, and seamlessly incorporate giving and generosity into your holiday preparations, you will create warm family memories that will last a lifetime.
If you are able to do so, "adopt" a child or a family in need in your community and fulfill their "wish list" requests, or pick up an extra toy and drop it into the Marine Corps Toys-for-Tots collection box or another local toy drive. If you are baking for your own festivities, consider making a double batch and delivering a plate, along with a kind note, to your local fire house or police station, or to an elderly or ill neighbor. Bring your kids to a nursing home or senior center and do some caroling or light the Hanukkah candles. Write notes of encouragement and gratitude and send to an organization that supports our active duty military who are serving far from home. Collect donations of toiletries, socks, warm clothing or small treats and deliver them to a local homeless shelter.
Finally, start the New Year with a new resolution: to make service and acts of kindness a regular part of your family routine. Developing habits of kindness allows kids to flex their empathy muscles, helping them grow into compassionate, grounded and grateful people who care about others and the world around them. With a positive intention and an open heart, your family can find opportunities to spread joy, share kindness and express gratitude, at the holidays and throughout the year.