Embrace the Season by Giving Back - MetroFamily Magazine
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Embrace the Season by Giving Back

by M.A. Smith

Reading Time: 7 minutes 

We’ve rounded up six organizations that are ready to help you and your family give back this season. Read on to find which one is right for you and take the time to show your children leadership through service.

Ring Christmas bells, and tell all the world— It’s the season for giving back. 

Yes, giving back can be as simple as bringing new toys to a local drop off, or even saving a few spare dollars for the Red Kettle outside the grocery store. But for those who are looking for a more hands-on experience, Oklahoma City offers a variety of volunteer opportunities for families to help spread the holiday cheer.

City Rescue Mission

As families sit down to a hearty Christmas dinner this year, other Oklahomans will be on the street, searching for their next meal. Homeless men, women and children aren’t just hungry during the holidays. They often don’t know from where or when their next meal will come. By getting involved with a homeless shelter, parents can help those in need, while teaching their children about service and compassion.

“City Rescue Mission has been serving the homeless and near homeless in Oklahoma City for more than 50 years,” said Michael Dwaileebe, public relations coordinator for the organization. “We take a holistic approach to helping end poverty and homelessness in someone’s life.”

Dwaileebe said parents and children are welcome to help with the clothing room or kitchen, or just talk with the men and women.

“Through our various programs and services, clients will get food, clothing and shelter, help finding a job, help getting their GED,” Dwaileebe said. “Not only are we providing shelter to those who need it, we are also providing opportunities for them to improve the situations, through case management, our Bridge to Life Programs and social services.”

City Rescue also is sponsoring a Toy Store for Christmas. Families can provide toys and other items for children to unwrap. Donated toys must be unwrapped and in original packaging. 

The Toy Store will be from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 22 and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 23. Volunteers must fill out an application prior to arriving. The application can be found at www.cityrescue.org/act/volunteer. Fill out the form and you’ll receive an invitation to volunteer orientation, where you will tour the facility and learn more about opportunities to give back.

The Education and Employment Ministry (TEEM)

The holidays represent family, fun and feasts for many in Oklahoma. But for others, this time of year focuses more on second chances and transitioning to a new, positive path.

For the past 27 years, TEEM has helped break the cycle of unemployment and incarceration. Families can pitch in together with TEEM to aid in a variety of tasks, said Anna Geary, TEEM’s development director.

Adult volunteers can be part of TEEM’s mentoring project, the pride and joy of the organization. This service pairs a community mentor with a client. These stable and safe role models help TEEM’s clients learn valuable skills, provide a support network and gives them a compassionate counselor.

“Being paired with a mentor in the community nearly doubles the likelihood that a returning citizen will find and maintain gainful employment,” Geary said. “Prior to their pairing, each mentor is required to complete a two-hour training with TEEM’s mentor coordinator, ODOC (Oklahoma Department of Corrections) volunteer training and a hobby and interest assessment.” 

Children also are welcome to help out at TEEM. With the help of parents, children can sort through donations for the First Night Out care packages. First Night Out is a program that supplies hygiene items, blankets and towels, socks, reading materials, restaurant gift cards and other necessities crucial to survival. 

Founded in 1987, TEEM has served more than 13,000 Oklahomans. Originally founded to exclusively help men, TEEM now helps all at-risk adults overcome substance abuse and addiction and other issues related to having been incarcerated.

“At least 95 percent of TEEM’s participants are a parent to one or more children,” Geary said. “By putting these men and women on pathways to success, achievement, health and self-sufficiency, TEEM makes a lasting mark on their families and friends. By helping a TEEM participant reestablish his or her life in our community, you empower some of Oklahoma’s most stigmatized and forgotten citizens.”

For more information about volunteering at TEEM, visit the organization’s website at www.teem.org to complete an application, or contact Geary at ageary@teem.org. Most volunteer opportunities occur during TEEM’s regular business hours, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

Hope Chest

The eager squeals of children running downstairs to open their gifts from Santa and delicious smells of hot cocoa coming from the kitchen are a traditional welcome to families on Christmas morning. 

But some families aren’t that fortunate. Many parents are barely able to pay bills and put food on the table. Christmas gifts are an unobtainable dream for them. The Tapestry and Hope Chest staff members believe every child should wake up to at least one gift under the tree, which is why they founded the annual Toy Store.

Now in its sixth year, the Toy Store is designed to restore dignity to low income families at Christmas time.  It all started with a story of a family receiving donated Christmas gifts, said Dena Nason, Hope Chest’s executive director. The children were thrilled to finally have Christmas toys to play with. However, despite good intentions, the group neglected to understand the parent’s pride.

Their father, while grateful for their children’s joy, left the room, feeling ashamed for not being able to provide for his family. Hope Chest doesn’t want other families to feel this shame. Hope Chest’s Toy Store reshaped the standard donation system and created a model to help families provide gifts, while feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

“We provide a hand up, not a hand out,” Nason said. “This helps families take pride and ownership at Christmas by providing quality Christmas gifts for their children at a fraction of the cost.”

Each family is limited to an amount they’re allowed to spend, usually $15 to $30 depending on family size. Toys start at $2, or about $10 to $15 retail in the stores. The most expensive gifts, like electronics or toys that could retail for as much as $100, are about $15 through the Toy Store. Volunteers help parents select toys their children will love. Child volunteers also are allowed to help push the cart and pick out toys for the shoppers. The Toy Store also accepts donations of new, unwrapped toys.

“We allow families to come in and shop one time per season, and they can walk through with a personal shopper to carry and help keep track of the shopping limit,” Nason said. “Many children help a parent pick out gifts for children less fortunate, their own age. It is an amazing experience and the families we help are so appreciative.”

The Toy Store will be open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and noon to 3 p.m. Saturday from Dec. 18 to 20. For more information, contact at dena@hopechestokc.org or 204-9108.

OK Foster Wishes

The holidays are a time of friendship and family. Loved ones gather for feasts and to catch up from a long year of being apart from each other, but not everyone enjoys that luxury.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), there are more than 11,000 foster children living in the state. Many of those children won’t be with their birth families during the holiday. To help them cope with their situation and provide a sense of normalcy, OK Foster Wishes provides Christmas gifts to foster children who wouldn’t typically wake up to presents under the tree.

“Our mission is to connect the community with opportunities to serve kids in foster care,” said Lisa Feist, OK Foster Wishes’ executive director. “We work with many partnering organizations engaging in solutions to issues surrounding foster care.”

Families are welcome to assist OK Foster Wishes with various tasks, including sorting gifts at the warehouse, shopping for presents using donated money and assisting with sponsorship events.

“The Christmas drive helps caseworkers and foster parents who feel supported by the community and children who will not have to wonder if they’ve been forgotten or lost,” Feist said. “There will be an opportunity to give online, mail a check, as well as receive a wish list from an individual child in foster care.”

DHS will provide a Christmas wish list for all children in foster care to OK Foster Wishes. The organization will give those lists to individuals and partnership organizations, which the charity is currently seeking out. OK Foster Wishes started in 2006 as a grassroots effort to connect the community with an opportunity to provide gifts for children in rural foster care.

For more information on volunteer times and locations, visit the OK Foster Wishes website at www.okfosterwishes.com.

Salvation Army

The holiday season wouldn’t be complete without the men and women standing outside local venues, ringing their gold bells and greeting shoppers. Every holiday season for the past 125 years, Salvation Army collects donations for its Red Kettle program. It was started in San Francisco by Salvation Army Capt. Joseph McFee. 

“He was in need of funding to provide a Christmas meal to 1,000 of the city’s needy,” said Maj. Carlyle Gargis, area commander for Salvation Army’s Central Oklahoma Area Command. “As he thought of a solution, he was reminded of his days as a sailor at Stage Landing in Liverpool, England. There on the dock sat ‘Simpson’s Pot,’ an iron kettle where people threw coins as they walked by to help those in need. McFee placed a similar pot at the Oakland Ferry Landing at the foot of Market Street with a sign that read Keep the Pot Boiling.”

Salvation Army invites families to participate in this time-honored tradition, Gargis said. Parents and children have the opportunity to wear the festive red aprons, grab a golden bell and ring in a Merry Christmas for the less fortunate living in Oklahoma City.

“We have so many opportunities for volunteers with our ongoing programs and Christmas ministries,” Gargis said. “During the Christmas season, volunteers are essential to our Red Kettle and Angel Tree programs. Volunteering at a red kettle is something fun for the whole family as you greet the community walking past with a warm Christmas greeting or even a Christmas carol.”

All proceeds collected during the Red Kettle drive support Salvation Army’s programs in the same ZIP code. Red Kettle isn’t the only help needed by Salvation Army this year. There are a variety of volunteer services families can participate with.

“Our Red Shield Diner is perfect for children to help serve the evening community meal or our Client Choice Food Pantry as they help individuals select their groceries,” Gargis said. “Many of our clients live on minimum wage and are unable to meet all the needs of their family. Our food programs allow families to focus on their family by helping remove the burden of worry over where they are getting their next meal. “

For more information about Red Kettle and Salvation Army’s volunteer program, contact Liz Banks, volunteer coordinator, at 246-1107 or liz_banks@uss.salvationarmy.org.

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