Giving Back With Your Family During the Holidays
By Ashley Pagenkopf, MS, CCLS, Child Life Specialist at Cook Children's
This is my absolute favorite season! While I desire to be super intentional with my kids year-round, this time of year makes me step up my game. I want to take advantage of all the opportunities that there are in our community to serve, and I desperately desire for serving others to be part of my kids DNA. Sometimes it can feel daunting, though, to know how to serve with your kids in tow. There are also roadblocks with some organizations surrounding children and age. However, our family has found some great opportunities to serve the community and those around us as family even when our kids were little bitty, and we’ve had a fun time doing it! Our kids actually look forward to our serving traditions around this time of year.
My encouragement to you is to keep it simple, reasonable, and age appropriate. Keeping it simple means that we choose a few things where all our girls can participate, and there are not many steps to it. Reasonable means that the time it takes needs to fit with our schedule of school and bedtime and the need for rest on the weekends. We don’t want serving to be a bummer, so we have to keep things at a reasonable time frame during a reasonable time of day. Age-appropriate means that you don’t take your toddlers into a situation that they cannot experience what is happening and actually help with the tasks. Help them find ways that they can help kids that are their age and serve in ways that they can experience it with you.
Serving is such an amazing way for your kids to think beyond themselves and put others before themselves. While there are countless ways that you could serve in our community, I want to highlight a few ideas that provide an opportunity for whole families to serve together from super young to older kids.
- Start with the people around you. Take dinner to a neighbor or deliver cookies or a small plant to a few neighbors. Do you have an elderly friend in your life that could use a small dinner or an ice cream treat? Think of those that are right around you and plan a simple act of service that your kids can deliver and experience.
- Prepare bags or meals for the homeless. We do this in two different ways in our family. We make bags that stay in our car, and we can hand them out when we see a person in need while we are driving or shopping somewhere. Our kids help us pack bags together. We will plan one night where we have all the snacks and such ready to pack and we make a family assembly line to pack the bags. Our bags include water, non-perishable snacks, and usually a beanie and some gloves in the winter. Your kiddos will love participating in putting the bags together. Often, I ask my girls to write a note to include in the bags so that there is something encouraging for the people we meet. They receive so much joy when we hand a bag out – they feel like they have really helped someone. We also have begun making bagged lunches for the Presbyterian Night Shelter. This is an easy way for us to make a meal for the homeless. Our girls are all just now old enough to be able to go to the shelter and serve a meal, but this is a way that they have been able to participate until they were old enough. We make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and add some non-perishable sides in the bag. Again, we make an assembly line and pack bags and deliver them to the shelter. Usually, my girls put stickers or decorate the bags. It is a delight for them!
- Buy some small presents for the local hospital or children’s organizations. For years since my girls were super little, we take a day to go to the dollar store and buy coloring books and puzzles for Cook Children’s and then we take time to deliver them as a family. My girls have the best time picking out specific coloring books and puzzles. I typically give them each a limit to what they can get. Then we go and enjoy the holiday decorations at the hospital and usually indulge in a treat together. You could also take our wish list and let your kids pick an item or items from the list to donate. We always have needs at the hospital. This is a great way to include your kids in the hospital needs before they are of age to volunteer.
- Adopt a family to serve or purchase gifts for. Every year our family chooses an Angel Tree family. This is something that you can do as a family or combine with another one or two families to complete the lists. This is another great way for your kids to think beyond themselves during this season and get to be intentional and thoughtful about the gifts they are giving to other children. We often try to pick families that have kids similar ages to our kids so that they have a little easier time knowing what they would enjoy.
- Encourage your kids to pick a few toys to donate. This is a great time to have kids take inventory of their stuff and start to think about things that they use and don’t use. If there are things that they don’t play with, this is a good time to donate some things to secondhand stores or shelters so that other families and kids can enjoy what they are done enjoying.
- Serve those that serve us. Every year we make several batches of cookies for the firehouse closest to our home. We take some time to deliver the cookies and thank the men and women that serve us every day. The girls typically write a letter or draw a picture for them. You could also do this for your local police station or make some treats for the teachers at your kids’ school or your neighborhood school.
- One other organization that I would like to highlight is Beautiful Feet. Your whole family is able to serve with this organization and you do not have to schedule your time, but you could go consistently (once a month). You can show up for any of their volunteer times to prepare food, sort clothes or spend time with people. Children of all ages are welcome as long as they are accompanied by an adult. This is a great place to serve as a family and invite a friend along to serve with you.
While this is not an exhaustive list of ways to serve, it is a great place to start and include your whole family. There are opportunities all around us to see others and serve them. It is vital that we teach our children to see others and see needs beyond themselves. These ideas are not just reserved for this season – there are needs throughout the year and ways to bless others that go beyond the holiday season. Allow this season to be a launching pad for your family into service and love together!
Get to know Ashley Pagenkopf
Ashley Pagenkopf is a Child Life Specialist in the Emergency Department at Cook Children's Medical Center. The Child Life program at Cook Children's offers a variety of services, all designed to make your experience at Cook Children's the best it can be. Our services include educating, preparing and supporting your child through tests and procedures, as well as coping with any life challenges you and your child may face. Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. We offer your child and your family an opportunity to express and work through any fears and concerns you may have. We'll also provide an explanation about what's going to happen during your visit and work with parents, brothers and sisters and other family members who may be involved in your child's daily care.