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Give Gifts with Meaning this Season

Lisa Kern of Delanco, NJ was overwhelmed at the volume of toys her son Nicholas received for his first Christmas. The next year, she decided to redirect the generosity of her family and friends by throwing a holiday open house party, to which each guest brought a new toy to donate to Toys for Tots.

At last year’s party, the Kern family collected more than 150 toys for Toys for Tots. “It’s been really cool to see him get it,” Kern says of watching Nicholas, now 8, learn more each year from the experience of charitable giving.

The holiday season gives parents an opportunity to teach children about resisting the materialism that runs rampant this time of year. Bill Wilson, Toys for Tots coordinator for Burlington County, NJ, sees parents teach their kids about being helpful to children who are less fortunate as he collects donations each year. He notes that kids “seem enthused about doing something good.”

Volunteer Opportunities

1-800-Volunteer (volunteer opportunities, events and organizations.)

Energize! (websites that list volunteer opportunities)

Good Deeds Are a Click Away (Internet sites for helping others)

“When you give a gift to someone you don’t know, that has meaning,” says Gaby Essinger, mother of three boys from Elverson, PA. She encourages her sons to participate in a program at the YMCA for which each child picks out a gift to give to a child in need. “It’s important that they know that all the best toys are not only for them,” says Essinger. “Other people deserve just as much.”

Cara Phalen, mother of three from Glenmoore, PA says her family limits gifts each year. “This is a time during the year to emphasize caring for others more than ourselves,” she says. The Phalens are not alone. Sara Funaiock, volunteer manager at the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, notes she has seen a recent trend of families wanting to volunteer together during the holidays. “We’ve seen more inquiries from parents who would like to teach their kids about giving back,” says Funaiock.

To find a meaningful volunteer opportunity for your kids, Funaiock recommends discussing their interests. However, be aware that many volunteer positions are for kids age12 and older. For younger children, there may be volunteer opportunities at home. This can be a good introduction to volunteering in an indirect way, says Funaiock. Above all, be open-minded when trying to find a volunteer opportunity for your family, says Funaiock.

In addition, Funaiock challenges families to get their feet wet during the holiday season, then keep that holiday spirit alive throughout the rest of the year with charitable projects.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

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