Just over 85 percent of households with children faced food insecurity in the year 2020, according to the USDA. A survey commissioned by the Salvation Army found that one in five respondents cannot afford to celebrate Christmas, and 43 percent state that Christmas is a time of financial struggle. The impact of that struggle reaches even further for any of those respondents who have children to whom they cannot provide gifts, a decorated tree or a special holiday meal.
Some might say the holidays are made for children. Adulthood robs many of us of the ability to find the magic in many things, but kids are still open to being surprised and awed by the special moments the holidays have to offer. And every child deserves to experience that. If your family has what they need for the holidays and you want to share that with somebody else, here are ways to help children in need.
Create Care Packages For Foster Kids
The first day in a new foster home can be filled with anxiety, confusion and feelings of isolation for children. Many organizations that work to place children in homes do their best to provide comforting items when children go to their new homes, but they don’t always have the time or resources to take on that one special act. Get in touch with a local foster agency in your area and see if you can provide care packages for foster children. Comforting items such as pajamas, a warm blanket, stuffed animals, personal hygiene items and cozy socks go a long way.
Provide Free Lunch
Many schools work hard to make sure no child goes without a lunch by offering programs like free lunch. However, not all schools have the funding they need to pull it off. If you are aware of a school in your area that has been struggling to keep up with their free lunch program, start a fundraiser to raise money so the school can bring back their lunch program. Even if it’s not enough to keep it going forever, see how far one kick starter can get you. Or, you can raise funds to purchase items to personally pack and deliver packed lunches for children who don’t bring their own lunch. Add a little something special in there for the holidays like holiday cookies or caramel popcorn. As an ongoing gift, you can personally sponsor the paid lunch of a child in need for a month or as long as you can afford to do so.
If it isn’t heartbreaking enough when children have to spend time in a hospital, there’s something even more unjust about it during the holidays. So many children sit in hospitals during the holidays, knowing that they don’t get to participate in all of the fun activities their peers do. Call your local children’s hospital and sign up to be a volunteer entertainer. If you have a special skill like puppeteering, magic tricks or making balloon animals, that’s always great. But in many cases, children appreciate someone who just comes to read them a special holiday story. If you or a friend has a karaoke machine, perhaps you can set it up for the kids to sing holiday songs. The same can be done at an orphanage or foster home. Most of the attention and resources in these facilities go towards the basic needs and the caregivers don’t have the energy or money left to provide special holiday cheer. So going in and entertaining the children is priceless.
Decorate A Shelter Or Foster Home
Everybody lights up a little when they see holiday decorations. But again, most not-for-profit organizations need to use any money that comes in on the essentials like food, bedding and hygiene products. There isn’t much left for decorating. Volunteer to decorate a shelter or a foster home. Donate the decorations yourself or if you don’t have any, do a decoration drive among friends and neighbors. You likely have dozens of friends who have unused decorations just collecting dust in boxes. Turn the otherwise dreary family shelter or foster home into a holiday wonderland. It adds that little bit of holiday magic that children in these facilities don’t otherwise get to experience.
Bring Your Dog Where He’s Needed
Animals bring so much joy to people, and especially children. Simply petting a dog reduces the stress hormone cortisol, says Hopkins Medicine. If you have a dog that does well with children, call a local family shelter, foster home or children’s hospital and see if you can bring your pet by to visit the children. Children in hospitals can be stuck in there for weeks if not longer, so they don’t get the chance to encounter dogs out in the real world. And a dog just has a way of making a place feel like home – which means a lot to kids in shelters or foster homes.
Give A Toy Store Gift Card
If you know of a family who cannot afford to buy their children gifts for the holidays, give them a gift card to a toy store or a major online retailer that sells toys. Give them the gift of shopping for presents for their kids, the way so many other parents across America get to do every year without a second thought. Let them walk their child through a toy store and have them pick out what they want. Hand-me-down toys are nice but every child deserves the experience of picking out a brand new, still-in-the-box toy.
Donate Toys To A Shelter
Bring toys to a family shelter. There are several ways to do this. You can either do a toy drive and collect lightly used toys from friends or family. Or you can host a toy drive at your local school, gym or church. Encourage donors to bring in lightly used or even brand new toys. You can also start a kick starter or other form of fundraiser to raise money that you’ll then put into a large gift card that the shelter coordinators can use to buy toys for the kids, or even bring the kids to the toy store to pick out their own presents.
Do A Food Drive
With so many families facing food insecurity, putting on a special holiday meal isn’t an option for everybody. So put on a food drive at your local school, gym or church. Make a list of holiday meal items that are most needed such as pumpkin pie filling, pie crust, mashed potato mix, gravy mix, whole hams, whole turkeys, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce and bread roll dough. With some of these items being perishable, you’ll need to do the drive on a compressed timeline and get the word out that local families in need can pick up their package with all the makings for a holiday meal on a set day, so items are fresh.
Bring Treats Where They’re Needed
While many places such as shelters and foster homes might have just enough money to provide basic food needs, they could struggle to provide those special holiday treats. But what are the holidays without some special goodies? Maybe you can bring plain cookies, frosting and sprinkles to a foster home or shelter so the children can have a cookie decorating party. Or you can bring packaged pies, cakes or cookies to a shelter, foster home or children’s hospital to complement their holiday meal.
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