"Is there a needy family we could provide Christmas for?" As the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization, I receive this question A LOT. People's fervent desire to give is encouraging, inspiring, and contagious! But sometimes great intentions cross into unintended territory.
A dear friend shared this childhood story over a cup of coffee one day: "Just before Christmas, me and my 11 siblings woke up to a crowd of people gathering outside my house with tons of presents for my family. There was even a news crew wanting to interview us! A local club publicly announced they were adopting the 'poorest family in town' to make sure the kids 'got to have Christmas.' We were too terrified to step outside. My mother was mortified and just as surprised as we were. As she walked outside, all the ladies and children gathered around her to give her presents for us while the news crew watched her every move. After the crowd left, my older sister and I looked at our presents and didn't know how to respond - we always felt content with our family's Christmas traditions. Before that day, we didn't know we were poor. My oldest sister devised a plan: if we throw the presents away, it means we aren't poor! So we did."
I’m certain the gift-givers' hearts swelled with joy and pride as they knocked on the door of my friend’s childhood home. They didn't know her mother wept in shame before putting on a brave face for the cameras. I have a memory from a kindergarten field trip where my class delivered wrapped Christmas presents to a mother during the school day. All 20-something of us lined up in her tiny, scarcely furnished living room to present our gifts for her children. Strangely, I distinctly remember her her hesitation to make eye contact. Now, as an adult, my stomach turns queasy at this memory. I’m certain my teachers had the purest of intentions, but the years have taught me there’s a fine line between helping and hurting, between true generosity and giving because it feels good. If you are considering ways to give during the holidays, perhaps these thoughts & recommendations (at the end) could be helpful.
Before you act, consider this filter:
- Be cautious of giving to make yourself feel good. None of us want to be this person, so take time to give your intentions a second thought. Checking your motives positions you to give in the most strategic, intentional and truly helpful ways possible.
- If you have children, be careful not to unintentionally cultivate an "us vs. them" mentality.
- Guard the dignity of people on the receiving end.
Simply said: put yourself in others' shoes before you act.
"Thanks for raining on our parade Meredith! So now what? We really want to give (and we want our children to learn to give)!" Glad you asked! There are SO MANY GREAT options!
Here are 7 simple acts of Christmas generosity:
- Support organizations that empower parents and protect their dignity. For my local friends, the Brazosport Blue Santa Toy Store is a great option! Here's why I love efforts like this: They allow PARENTS to be the givers and the heroes rather than a group of strangers. Instead of giving someone else's children a bunch of toys, you can give to this special toy store where qualifying parents buy gifts for their children at deep discounts. If parents can't afford the reduced prices, they can earn credits through volunteer hours. Click here for more information (and scroll down).
- Support organizations and agencies who take care of children who are orphans, who are in foster care, or who are in group homes. Check your local listings for adoptions agencies, foster care services, and CPS agencies.
- Give items or resources to organizations who give ALL year long! Shop for your local food pantry, crisis pregnancy help center, etc. A quick phone call or email can provide insight into their greatest needs. Take your kids with you to shop and deliver the items. You can even wrap the items or make special treats for the staff members who invest their lives year-round. Ask an agency representative to visit with your family about how the items will be used to help.
- Take a widow who no longer drives at night out to dinner and to look at Christmas lights.
- Deliver Christmas cookies to your neighbors, and/or to your local homeless shelter (check in advance to ensure homemade items are acceptable).
- Find a family in the process of adopting a child and make a contribution toward those efforts.
- Give a young couple a gift card for dinner and make arrangements for a sitter (or volunteer to be the babysitter!).
Join the conversation by commenting below: How will your family serve others during the holidays? How can we work together to encourage our friends, co-workers, and families to protect the dignity of those we hope to help?