Children and Charity: Three Ideas for Teaching Your Children Giving Rather than Gifting Around the Holidays


It’s that time of year again.  The polar vortices are threatening to descend upon on; all of the holiday music that has been playing and the Christmas decorations that have been out since August finally seem relevant; and people are strategizing their Black Friday deals (is it really Black FRIDAY anymore?).  It is also a time to be with family, give thanks, and eat a lot.  And, it is also a perfect time to teach your children the idea of giving.

The first Christmas that my husband and I shared back when we first started dating…no need to get into how long ago that was…we started the tradition of venturing to the Barnes & Noble in our old Brooklyn neighborhood and purchasing books for kids on the Angel Tree.  That is, we picked an ornament off of the tree that was marked with an age and gender, and bought several suitable books.  Since that time, we have played “Santa” for several underprivileged children, donated to multiple soup kitchens, and continued with our book purchasing at Barnes & Noble.

Once we had our oldest, it seemed obvious that not only would we continue these activities but do our best to involve her in them.  Admittedly, I am not sure that any of these things really resonated with her until last Christmas when she was a little over two and a half, but we had multiple opportunities to expose her to the concept of giving.  Here are some activities we will likely do again this year and some opportunities for your children to get into the spirit of giving:

Book Donations – Last year, we stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Norwalk and, while they did not have a giving tree similar to what my husband had done in the past, they were collecting books for the pediatric wing of Norwalk Hospital.  We explained to M that we were going to pick out some books for kids that were sick and needed cheering up.  She had a blast picking out books for the “sick kids.”  So much so that at one point in time my husband eyed the growing pile of books with a little disbelief, but we couldn’t say no as M skipped around the store picking out more books proclaiming they were for the “sick kids to make them feel better.”  If you are on a budget, or want to restrict the gifting to a particular dollar amount, (hindsight is 20/20) then provide your children with some limitations (for example, let’s pick out three books, or pick out your favorite book to give to another child).  Check out Barnes & Noble, Elm Street Books in New Canaan, Barrett Books in Darien, or the Darien Book Aid Plan to see whether they have specific holiday drives ongoing.

M inspecting books for donating.

Toy Donations – Perhaps the most obvious (or second most obvious behind food drives), but toy drives abound during the holidays.  Most such drives request new toys, so this isn’t the time to unload your gently used toys, but it does provide an opportunity to take your child shopping, explain to them that they are picking out a toy for someone who does not have any toys or as many toys as they do, and let them take ownership of selecting what will be donated.  Our town hosts an annual Santa Run in which Santa rides around town on one of the fire trucks making specific, scheduled stops, greeting the kids, and accepting toys for the George Washington Carver Center in South Norwalk.  Person-to-Person in Darien is hosting its annual “toy store” event December 11-13, for families located in Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk and Stamford.  This year the number of qualifying families is nearly double what it was last year – approximately 1000 families with 2200 children – and they are in need of toy donations, particularly games, and volunteers for the event.  DOMUS in Stamford also has kicked off its holiday efforts, and you can donate items for underprivileged youth from their wish list based on age and need.

M and her Build-A-Bear monkey before sending it off to cheer up a sick child.

You may also be able to find alternatives to the traditional toy drive.  Last year, we took M to the Build-A-Bear in Danbury at which one of my husband’s colleagues had organized a drive to collect stuffed animals for critically ill children.  Again, we explained to M that she would be building a stuffed animal for a sick kid, but we let her pick out the animal of her choosing (a monkey) and clothes and accessories.  Then we both held our breath as we asked M to put the monkey in the donation box.  She walked up to the box, placed the monkey inside, waved and said “bye, bye, monkey,” and this proud mommy walked out of the store blubbering like a baby.

Food Donations – There is ample opportunity, particularly around the holidays, to contribute to a holiday food drive.  Whether it is donating a turkey for Thanksgiving (speaking of which, the Bridgeport Rescue Mission is in desperate need of turkeys) or donating non-perishables to any other of the numerous soup kitchens, shelters, etc that are in the area. Contributing to a food drive could be a great first step to introduce your children to the act of giving, particularly if you fear a meltdown in the toy store aisle (or anywhere) once they realize that you really mean that the toy isn’t for them.  You can even go “shopping” in your own pantry or cupboards to select items to be donated, but make sure to explain what you are doing and have them help you pack it up in a bag or box for donating.  Aside from the Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Person-to-Person also collects non-perishable food items.

Do you have any other ideas for instilling the spirit of giving in your children?

Do you know of any other great organizations in the area that could benefit from volunteers or donations?

Previous articleTeacher Gifts: What to Get and What to Avoid
Next articleThanksgiving Traditions
Kara, her husband, and two little girls M and Z live in the idyllic town of Rowayton. She was born and raised in West Virginia and, although she has lived in the New York metro area for over fifteen years, is a mountaineer forever (Go ‘Eers!). In addition to being a mom to M (born in 2011) and Z (born in 2013), Kara is a full time attorney working in Manhattan and a hobbyist photographer. When not battling Metro North, she enjoys practicing her photography skills, reading the latest best-sellers, trying new recipes for the girls, getting outdoors whether running, hiking or snowshoeing, and competing with her husband for the self-proclaimed title of “Efficiency Expert.” If you can’t find her doing any of these things, she most likely has fallen asleep on the sofa while attempting to watch the latest “must see” movie.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here