With the holidays adding to already-full schedules, it’s all too easy for the true meaning of the season to get lost in the hustle and bustle of holiday commitments and gift giving. But how does a busy family shift the focus from getting to giving? How can we ensure that our children experience the true meaning of the holidays?
Combining family time with volunteerism is a great way to fit philanthropic efforts into an already hectic schedule. Local clinical social worker Karleen Daugherty (LCSW) says that volunteering as a family is a great way to encourage gratitude in your children. “It gives children the opportunity to see their parents as a positive role model,” Daugherty explains. “Exposure to community social issues gives kids the perspective needed to see beyond their own needs and have compassion for others.”
Here are three ways that your family can make a difference this holiday season, all while embracing the true spirit of the holidays. [Editor's Note: Find more ways to help this holday season in our 2013 Guide to Giving Back.]
Fighting Hunger…Feeding Hope
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma (RFB) works to provide access to healthy, nutritious food for those living in a food insecure household. The organization provides food for approximately 90,000 Oklahomans in need each week—one-third of which are children. “The majority of those served by the Regional Food Bank are the working poor, seniors and children,” explains Angie Gaines, RFB’s Director of Marketing and Communications. “The Regional Food Bank depends upon the support of the community to continue to provide food for those struggling with hunger in our state.”
How to help:
Children between the ages of 8 and 18 are welcome to volunteer when accompanied by an adult, making this a great opportunity for the entire family. Families can volunteer Monday-Saturday and help with sorting and packing food to be distributed. If your family seeks a more active experience, you can volunteer to deliver food to residents of senior housing sites or to bring fresh produce to low-income neighborhoods, volunteer to help garden for Urban Harvest or hold food and fund drives through your local community, church or school to benefit the work of the RFB.
Financial contributions made between November 15-January 15 will have extra impact as Chesapeake Energy Corporation and a caring local family will match every dollar donated up to $1 million. For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit regionalfoodbank.org/volunteer.
Bringing Christmas to Tornado Victims
Interested in helping the approximately 10,000 people were directly impacted by the tornadoes in May 2013? Join forces with a group of students at Northwestern Oklahoma State University through the Rebuilding Christmas: 2013 Oklahoma Tornado Christmas Relief Drive. This group hopes to provide new and gently-used decorations and other festive items to help families recapture the spirit of the holidays for their children. “After a disaster, people aren’t concerned about [holiday] decorations, there are more important priorities that come first,” says project coordinator Jessica Blanchard. “This is a small way that we can help lighten that burden that arises around holidays. Our dream is that every family has a lit tree, stockings, and most of all, a memorable Christmas.”
How to help:
If your children are part of a youth group, Scout troop or other organization, consider serving as a collection point for new or gently-used holiday decorations. Or, ask your neighborhood or church to band together to make handmade ornaments, collect stockings or other decorations. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/RebuildingChristmas.
Adopt-A-Family in Need
Sunbeam Family Services is dedicated to providing the poor and working poor with affordable, social services including individual counseling, group counseling, senior services, emergency foster care and early childhood development programs. “This is a very special time of year, but it can be tough for many families that we serve,” says Courtney Hyder, Sumbeam’s Marketing and Development Coordinator. “Many of our clients have a difficult time providing basic necessities for their families and themselves, so holiday gifts are the last thing on the list.”
How to Help:
Sunbeam’s Adopt-a-Family Program allows your family to help with basic necessities and holiday wishes for families in need. Children of all ages can get excited to pick out gifts for others in needs and experience first-hand the joy of making holiday wishes come true. For more information, call (405) 528-7721 or visit www.sunbeamfamilyservices.org
Inspiring Kids: Katie’s Crafts for Special Needs, Inc.
Oklahoma City native Katie McKinney is the driving force behind Katie’s Craft’s for Special Needs, Inc. The 12-year-old has autism and epilepsy, and first started making and selling handmade crafts three years ago.
During this same time, she attended Camp Barnabas, a summer camp for children and adults with special needs that allows campers to experience everything that a typical child does at camp, including swimming, archery and canoeing. “When she first started making crafts, the money that she raised was used to help other kids from Oklahoma be able to go to camp,” explains her mother Casey McKinney. Katie says that being able to send her best friend Lexi to Camp Barnabas was the best part of her efforts to date. “Lexi is in a wheel chair, and for the first time ever, she got to enjoy being just like everyone else,” Katie explains. “The week that she went, most of the kids were also in wheelchairs. So, she got to feel normal.”
Over the past three years, Katie’s efforts have expanded to include helping local families with special needs to afford service dogs, medical equipment and more. She also helps match families in need with durable medical equipment that needs a new home. “I understand how it feels when you need something and for whatever reason you can’t get it,” Katie explains. “So I want to help other kids get what they need.”
Katie is best known for her duck tape flower pens, but her line of crafts include molded soaps, hot pads/pot holders, crochet scarfs and afghans, Christmas ornaments, paracord bracelets, rubber band bracelets and keychains. She currently has 14 stores across the Oklahoma City metro that sell various items. “She’s figured out something that allows her to use her autism to an advantage,” Casey says. “If you look at her pens, every single one is perfect. People know if they are buying her stuff, they are going to get quality.”
Katie’s Crafts offers special items for the holidays and accepts custom orders. “Katie is always accepting donations for the various projects that she works on,” Casey adds. “If you have durable medical equipment that is no longer needed, please consider donating it to Katie and letting us find it a new home where it is needed. We also are taking requests for those needing assistance.” Find Katie’s Crafts for Special Needs, Inc. on Facebook for more information or to make a request.