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Curing the Gimmies: Giving Kids the Gift of Charity


Every year around this time, there’s a nasty virus that goes around. It affects nearly every kid, it’s highly contagious, and even though many adults are immune, some of them still catch it. Symptoms include whining, complaining, and even tantrums.

The dreaded Gimmies. 

“Gimme a light-up Razor scooter!”

“Gimme more Skylanders!”

“Gimme a new pair of UGGS!”

“Gimme an iPhone!” 

Gimme a freakin’ break!

Luckily, there’s a vaccine against this awful disease, and it’s called Charity. 

It’s not 100% effective, but it does protect against some of the worst symptoms, and it offers some perspective on families who are facing even tougher challenges. 

It’s common to perform grand, charitable gestures at holiday time, such as serving a meal at the local soup kitchen, or making a considerable end-of-year cash donation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach! However, in my experience, if I simply round up old clothes and toys or cut a big check, my kids don’t really “get it”. Volunteering to serve a meal is a great experience for kids, but the shelters are often (at least in the Denver area) waitlisted months ahead of time for the big holiday meals. 

So, I’ve made a list with the help of some of my friends who are or have been in difficult situations. I asked them what would help the most. Here’s what I found out: 

1. Help provide transportation. 

Number one on the list of many struggling family’s worries: How are we going to get to work/school/doctor/dentist/therapist/job interviews/etc? Purchasing gas gift cards or bus passes to donate can mean that family doesn’t have to choose between driving somewhere and forgoing food or medication, vs. walking in the frigid cold. 

2. Purchase groceries.

For a family in real need, good healthy food often goes by the wayside. Many families rely on the schools to provide one or two hot meals for their children, and on school breaks that may mean children go without. Grocery gift cards can go a long way for a family that is struggling due to illness, job loss, death of a parent, or other issues, and may not quite make the cut for food stamp assistance. If you purchase gift cards through a Scrip program (offered by King Soopers and Sprouts, among others) that returns a percentage of purchases back to a non-profit such as a school or church, you can make your charitable dollars stretch even further. Pet food and supplies are also a part of the grocery budget, and help with that expense can mean that a struggling family gets to keep their beloved pet–providing comfort and companionship for someone whose world has been shaken to the core.

3. Provide entertainment.

If you’ve ever struggled financially, you know that fun things like movies, outings, and dining out are among the first expenses cut from the budget. It might seem like something trivial that one could do without, but for a family in crisis, those fun outings are important because they solidify family bonds and give them a positive experience where they can forget about their troubles for a short time. A trip to the movies might be the first time a struggling family has laughed together in a while! If you have unused guest passes from your zoo/museum/rec center memberships, consider donating them. Find out if your rec center has a scholarship fund that provides sports or classes for kids in need. Or, purchase some movie ticket vouchers, Redbox gift cards, restaurant gift cards, community theater or holiday concert tickets, and the like. All of those can help a family feel connected to each other and the culture in their city. 

4. Donate NEW clothing, bedding, and toys

It’s easy to do a biannual roundup of things my kids have outgrown and leave them on the curb for Disabled Vets to pick up. It requires considerably more effort to shop and spend my discretionary income on new things to donate. But that is what many shelters, transitional homes, and other non-profits require for health and safety reasons. Plus, it tends to make us more aware of what it costs just to survive…as my kids see the cost of a complete outfit add up–even at the most deeply discounted stores–they begin to understand why it’s not possible for me to purchase new outfits for every different occasion or passing trend! Explaining to them that some people don’t even posses proper clothes to attend school or a job, gives them a real dose of reality when they are begging for the newest color of $50 TOMS. 

So how do I get my kids involved in the above acts of charity? 

I have them include it on their Christmas lists. 

They each get a sheet of paper. At the top is written my per-kid budget, along with 5 categories. You’ve probably seen it on Pinterest: “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read“, but we take it one step further. At the bottom is a category “Something to give somebody in need“. It is deducted from their gift budget, because I want them to think about it earnestly. I want them to make a sacrifice, instead of just letting Mom and Dad handle it. I want them to consider their own “wants” in light of their charitable gift suggestion, to make sure they are really, truly wanted. Then, we shop together for the suggested items and go to drop them off as a family, so they can see the effect of their generosity in a tangible way. 

Of course, there are as many unique ways to get involved, as there are families! You can adjust my idea for the age of your kiddos, or use a different approach altogether. The point is to make it real to your kids…involve them in the decision of where/how to give, shop together for the donations, make a sacrifice somewhere in your budget that they will be aware of, and have them accompany you if possible, to make the delivery. There are dozens of shelters, transitional housing, children’s group homes, and other non-profits in the metro area that will be happy to accept any of the above. Or, you could connect with a family in need just by asking at your kids’ school or place of worship. 

And if you specifically want to do volunteer work? 

5. Donate your TIME

Do you have legal, medical, translation/interpretation, mechanic, accounting, carpentry, or other marketable skills? Consider volunteering pro bono hours for a family, disabled, or senior person in your community who may not be able to hire someone on their own. Habitat for Humanity is always looking for winter volunteers, as are rec/senior centers. Your older children could offer to babysit so a parent can attend an appointment or job interview, give music or skateboard lessons to a younger kid, or act as a mentor. Poverty can be very isolating, and simply having a friend to study with, accompany them to the library, toss a football, play a video game, or complete a craft project can mean the world to a kid who feels very alone. wishes you and your family a Gimmie-free holiday season, full of the joy of giving!

 Photo credit: Powerhouse Museum