©Marlena Zagajewska | Dreamstime.com
At this major gift-giving time of year, it’s difficult to get children to think about anything else except the new toys, bicycles and Wii games they may soon receive. But this emphasis on giving actually offers an excellent opportunity to encourage your kids to think about others.
Schools start collecting for food baskets to give families for a traditional Christmas dinner and many children walk past that giving box as they enter their classrooms each morning. Send in a non-perishable food item in a child’s backpack once a week and reinforce the message that it’s important to help those in need.
Adopt-a-family programs through work, churches and even at the mall allow children to see the first names and requests of other kids their ages. My husband and I try to select a boy and a girl each year who need gifts. If possible, we shop for their gifts with our boy and girl. It’s not easy for them to select, see us buy, and then help wrap a gift for another child, all while not knowing what awaits them under our Christmas tree. I wish I could say they give without thought to themselves, but that’s not the case yet. We’ll keep trying.
Cynthia Clabough, of Oswego, says her goddaughter routinely goes through the toys in her room to find ones she is ready to part with. Those toys get passed on to the P.E.A.C.E. program in Syracuse, where her grandmother works. The notion of helping others was passed on by her father, Clabough says. “He’d take us through the neighborhood raking leaves for (elderly) neighbors.” In the snowy season, father and children would turn to shoveling. Clabough continues the tradition in her neighborhood and says her sister and children do the same. The act combines exercise, fresh air and active, quality time together, she points out.
Brianna Schwartz, 11, of DeWitt, was so inspired by a film she saw about poor families in Vietnam that she decided to paint and sell dragon flies to raise money to send to a charity that helps support them. “It was something she was moved to do, and we wanted to support her,” says her mom, Trisha Schwartz. Brianna, who was adopted from Vietnam, made a pitch to their church to allow her to sell the dragon flies at a table in the church one Sunday. Through that selling point and others, Brianna sold all the birds and raised more than $300 for the charity.
The opportunities abound, if one looks for them, to get children involved in serving others. Brownie troops and schoolchildren sing and play music at nursing homes, especially at this time of year. Children are asked to help clean up schoolyards and roadways at Earth Day. But it’s important to remind children—and ourselves—that the needs exist year-round.
Last summer a religious group my family belongs to decided to take over sandwich-making for the Samaritan Center in downtown Syracuse. (Students at Le Moyne College had started the sandwich-making project the year before, but they were heading home for the summer.) We each took two days’ worth
of sandwiches for two weeks in the summer. Before those weeks, I picked up supplies from other members, bought more supplies and piled them up in our dining room.
The nights before I delivered the sandwiches, a few friends came by to help. My kids also got involved. My daughter liked swirling the mustard while my son was more of a cheese-application guy. They each lasted about an hour in the hour-and-a-half project. When they asked, we told them, yes, these sandwiches were what 90 people would get for lunch the next day. That was all. When I returned from delivering the sandwiches the next morning, I told them about the people who had been lined up to pick up some food.
One night, while bagging sandwiches, my husband remarked that growing up his family regularly donated to charities, but they had never done the sandwich-making. My Depression-era parents hadn’t either; they were happy not to need the assistance themselves. I’m glad we can pass on more than just new toys each year. The example we set is more lasting—I hope—than any Wii game.
Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.