It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are right around the corner. Between the candy on the aisles of Target in October, the advertisements on TV and the endless promotions for Christmas sleepwear in your Facebook newsfeed, it is really, really hard not to get caught up in the excess of the holidays. Just as we all struggle to turn down that 3rd glass of wine and 5th dessert, it’s often challenging to not worry about how many presents will be under the tree and if our kids will have “enough.”
But at the end of the day, I think we’d all agree that we are truly blessed beyond measure. Our children don’t need five more toys; what they really cherish is spending time with us. There’s a reason that we’ve all heard the joke about “we buy all these expensive presents and they just want to play with the boxes!” At New Orleans Moms Blog, we’ve been talking a lot about how to be intentional with our children in approaching the holiday season. The truth is that the holidays are whatever we make them; if we buy 20 presents per child from the time they are young, then that is what they expect. If we set the standard closer to 3 gifts, then that becomes more than ample. It’s never too late to incorporate giving and community service into your holiday traditions.
This holiday season, we challenge each of you to find at least one meaningful way to give back to our community. To make it even easier, we’ve compiled some ideas for you!
Ways to Give Back in New Orleans this Holiday Season
Did you know that one in eight people in Louisiana struggles with hunger? Unfortunately, hunger in South Louisiana is a very real problem facing many families. But the good news is that with every $1 donated, Second Harvest can provide the equivalent of $15.50 in grocery/food items. If you are short on time, it is quite simple to donate to this cause, though we’d recommend asking your children to each save towards this goal or somehow be intentional so that they recognize the cause your family has chosen and why. It would also be easy to take the children on a shopping trip to the store and then visit one of their warehouses to deliver the items in person. Second Harvest also has many volunteer shifts available, which could be a great way to engage your older children in this important cause.
St. Tammany Project Christmas started in 2002 to provide gifts and a Christmas dinner to children in need in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana. Children are accepted for the program if their families qualify under Federal poverty guidelines, and the organization consults with other local charities to avoid duplication of services. What we love about this initiative is that it is focused on maintaining dignity for the families involved. Project Christmas enables needy families to experience and share Christmas as family. Families pick up their gifts and food baskets several days in advance so their children can be surprised on Christmas Day. How amazing is that? Additionally, applicants must provide documentation demonstrating need in order to participate, so you can rest assured that your adopted family is truly in need. There are lots of ways to get involved with Project Christmas, and what could be a better way to show your children the true meaning of the holiday season?
The Covington Food Bank serves the tri-parish area of St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington. An average of 20% of the people who reside in these parishes live in poverty, so the need for food is very real here as well. As with Second Harvest, you can donate your time, money or food to this great cause. In addition to serving as a food bank, there is also a thrift store and dental clinic on site. There is truly a volunteer opportunity for everyone at the Food Bank of Covington, so we encourage readers on the Northshore to reach out and lend a hand.
While not local, this is a project that is easy and really tangible for children. Through Operation Christmas Child, you can shop with your little ones to fill a shoebox of essentials like soap and toothbrushes, as well as toys, for a boy or girl in a specific age group. Then, you include the cost of mailing it ($7) and drop it off during collection week (November 12-19) at one of the receiving locations around the New Orleans area. Rayne Memorial (uptown on St. Charles) is one receiving location, though there are many others. Our contributor Courtney shared, “Our family was attracted to Operation Christmas Child because it seemed a way to get both needed and wanted items to children in need. We want Jack to see the Christmas season as a time for giving, not receiving, so we wanted to involve him fully in this project. As a way to personalize it for him, I printed out pictures of boys and girls. Jack had a great time at Target helping us decide what these children might like/need. When we had things at home, we put the pictures on the ground and then divided up the items based on what he thought each one would like. It was fun for both of us and I think the message sunk in because Jack went back later and added his fire helmet to one of the piles because he said “that boy might need a fire helmet.”” In honor of Christmas, New Orleans Moms Blog has shopped with their children and packed several shoeboxes for distribution around the world in years past.
Nothing lights up a room like children and babies, and this is particularly true in retirement homes. Volunteers and families are always welcome, though we recommend contacting Poydras Home (or any other retirement community) in advance to arrange your visit. It is an easy and simple way to make someone else’s day brighter, especially around the holidays when individuals living in retirement homes might be lonely. Consider attending tea and staying to visit, or bring an activity/craft for the residents to enjoy. I have a friend who recently shared that her infant daughter was held by a woman who was over 100 years old during a visit, and I think that is just really, really neat.
The Ronald McDonald House on Canal Street provides a home away from home for families seeking specialized medical care in the New Orleans area. The home’s children and their families have come from 63 out of 64 parishes in Louisiana, many states across the country and all over the world. There are many ways to give back, and you could even consider taking your children shopping for items on the home’s “wish list” and then making a special delivery. Consider coloring cards with your family and then mailing them or dropping them off for the families to enjoy. The Ronald McDonald House also welcomes snack baskets or bags for the families as well, which are helpful for taking to the hospital. Or, the home has a pop tab program (the little tops on cans), which is easy for families; simply collect the tabs and deliver to the house as they then send them to the recycling center and receive compensation in return.
Founded in 1989, the New Orleans Mission provided Shelter, Food and Spiritual guidance to a growing number of homeless men who were living on the streets of our city. You can donate and/or volunteer to provide a meal for someone in need this coming holiday.
Random Acts of Kindness
When it comes to giving back, don’t forget that you can be creative in your service! Consider small gestures of love and kindness during the holiday season. Consider baking cookies for your postman, UPS driver, garbage men or local fire station (a personal favorite for Courtney’s son Jack!). Put granola bars in the center console of your car and make it a habit to hand one out every time your family encounters a homeless individual while driving around. Take the opportunity to put on holiday music and clean out drawers, closets and garages – what better time of year to collect donations and bring them to those in need?