Every year I feel it. The holidays rush in (and out) and I feel a mixture of excitement and confusion as to what excactly to DO for others in the season.
Many nonprofits actually have to turn away volunteers during the holidays due to an overabundance of inquiries, and while there is always a need for financial donations, swiping plastic and clicking "donate" can seem a little removed when it comes to teaching philanthropy to kids.
Before Christmas the kids and I shopped together for a couple of charitable outreaches, but I wondered how I could continue making charitable giving a habit even after the "Season of Giving" was gone, and especially during months like January when purging and organizational fits dredge up an overabundance of items around the house that could be better put to use via donation.
Obviously there are far more than six ways to give locally, but these are a few tangible, and easy, ways I've found where even littles ones can get in on the act of giving all year long.
1. Donate to food pantries
It may simple, or even trite, but in a mama's world simple is good, and it's not really trite when you teach your small son that yes, jars of his favorite peanut butter are being shared with those who don't have any, and a second box of cereal isn't for your ravenous daughter, but for someone who doesn't have breakfast regularly. These were topics that the kids and I talked over when I went to buy groceries at Kroger and picked up a few extras of our favorite nonperishable foods for the Second Harvest Food Bank donation barrel located in store.
It's hard to find a much easier donation opportunity than placing food in a barrel where you just shopped for groceries, but food pantries across the county are in regular need of nutritious, high-quality, nonperishable foods for the families they serve. Check with spots like Second Harvest, Greenhouse Ministries, Salvation Army, and Nourish Food Bank in Smyrna for donation times and distribution volunteer opportunities.
2. Give book and toy collections a second life with literacy organizations
This month it might be easy to bundle up the kids' old toys and haul them to Goodwill (and aren't we all thankful for the donation sites and convenience centers in this county?), but if you'd like to take the "giving" conversation a little deeper with the family, consider donating books and yes, toys, to literacy organizations like Read to Succeed or the Rutherford County Library System.
RTS accepts pre-loved books to share with children and adults in their literacy programs as well as families served by Greenhouse Ministries, Habitat for Humanity, Domestic Violence Shelter, Westbrook Towers, and even new classroom teachers.
Books that don't make the library's lending shelves are used for the Friends of Linebaugh Library book sales, and gently-loved toys like puzzles, building blocks, puppets, and Legos are often needed for workshops and children's programs.
Contact Diane Hall at Read To Succeed at firstname.lastname@example.org and Laura Loggins at Linebaugh at email@example.com about donations.
3. Make a blanket statement
Whether you're in closet-cleanout mode or just good at finding sales, take extra coats and warm blankets to Barnabas Vision, which works to ensure that the homeless have warm resources during the season's coldest nights. You can drop off adult and children coats and blankets in good condition at the Barnabas Vision offices, and also pick up-- or donate for-- "encouragement bags" which include toiletries and non-perishable foods to be shared with anyone you may meet who is in need. For more information email director David Coggin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Remember four-footed friends
Before you throw out that old flannel sheet set, consider donating it--and any other clean sheets, blankets or towels--to PAWS of Rutherford County. Providing bedding, pet food, and cleaning supplies is a great way to give especially if your babies have a soft spot for fur babies. Check the PAWS website for specific needs and wish lists.
5. Partner with school programs
Chances are your kids have a favorite school snack—try picking up a few extra for kids who have none. ATLAS and McKinney-Vento programs through the Rutherford County and Murfreesboro City Schools respectively are charged with providing support to children in economically disadvantaged families, and that includes sending nonperishable snacks home with the children on weekends when they don't have the benefit of meals at school. Contact the coordinators (listed on the website) for where to deliver contributions.
6. Get surfing
When time is more available than finances, match up with an organization that meets your family's interests and values and offer a helping hand. Websites Volunteer Rutherford and United Way advertise goods AND volunteer needs for different events and purposes for multiple organizations, so you and your family can find the need you can meet. Giving of any sort is ALL good; it's even better when you're connected with an agency-- and opportunity--you love.
Got a great idea for getting families (and little ones) in on giving? Please share in the comments!
Laura Beth Payne is a writer mama living in the Blackman Community of Murfreesboro with her husband Nathan and their two children. Follow @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram for more family fun in and around the city.