We have learned how giving to others not only helps those we reach out to, but also boosts our own happiness and improves our health.
We can read about giving, we can send money, we can even create gift packages for others. But when we take our children out into the community to directly help those less fortunate, they experience a truly incredible, touching moment that can shift their perspective for a lifetime. It is by far the best way to break down barriers and build bridges throughout our own community.
Holiday Gift Shop Event
My children and I were recently part of an amazing event that took us out of our comfort zone and into a part of our community that we rarely see. A group of families from my children’s school gathered for an event hosted by Touch a Heart Foundation, a local charitable organization supporting children in need in our community.
We set up a holiday gift shop for children attending an afterschool program at Florence Fuller Child Development Centers, an organization dedicated to helping economically disadvantaged children realize their full potential, both socially and academically, by giving them the tools and skills they need to start school on par with their more affluent peers.
Volunteers purchased a variety of small gifts for the children to “shop” for holiday presents for family members or friends. Each child chose up to two gifts. Then volunteers wrapped them in gift bags that the children could decorate with stickers and markers. We also provided blank cards for the children to write notes to the recipients of these special gifts.
My kids and their friends from school buddied up with the shoppers to help them choose a gift for their loved ones. They also worked with them on their cards and helped them spell or write if they needed.
About 100 children enjoyed the holiday gift shop, and walked out of the room with giant smiles ready to give their gifts to their mom, dad, parent, teacher, or other relative. The children were so excited to pick out a gift and to write and decorate their own cards. They were having such a good time that it was hard to get them to go back to their classroom so that the next group of kids could come in to go shopping.
This was the first time I have ever seen this type of event. I think it is such a creative way to help children who otherwise would not be able to give gifts to their loved ones. They enjoyed being able to make their own decisions and to give to someone else. Many of them wrote beautiful cards thanking their parents, teacher, or another special person for doing so much for them. I think they really felt empowered to have this chance to show their appreciation during the holiday season with these gifts.
Reactions From Volunteers
By the same token, the children who volunteered at this special event got so much out of it. They were all so kind to the students who were shopping. They shook their buddy’s hand and introduced themselves. They loved showing them all the gift options on the table. And not one of them asked to have a gift for themselves.
My son was impressed by how artistically talented his buddies were when they made their cards.
One of the boys who volunteered said, “Today was amazing, I had a lot of fun and I think it was a great experience for us to help kids who are in need.”
Another child volunteer mentioned, “It really made everyone’s day and made me feel really good about what all the kids thought of the gifts. It was loving and amazing that I had an opportunity to help all the kids.”
A mother who was there volunteering with her daughter explained, “My daughter loved the event. As soon as we left, she told me ‘mommy that was so much fun! I loved helping make the other kids smile’. She could not stop talking about how fortunate she felt in life. It was an evening of nonstop discussion.”
Finally, another mom stated, “As a parent, I was so proud to include my children in such a hands-on, immersive experience that was relatable for their ages. Seeing the impact they can make on someone else’s life in person really stays with them and shapes their views of the world. It reminds them there’s always others to help out, even if they don’t see these children or opportunities to do so in their daily lives. Donations aren’t just monetary: donating one’s time and compassion towards others teaches children to spread an intangible wealth that is contagious.”
About Touch A Heart Foundation
Founded 12 years ago, Touch a Heart Foundation provides help and offers hope to over a thousand children each year in the South Florida community suffering from poverty, abuse, neglect, and illness. The organization also strives to teach children the importance of giving back and to promote volunteerism. Its goal is to make a personal connection with all of the children and families they help and to enrich the lives of everyone involved.
Executive Director Jennifer Kaufman believes strongly in the benefit of going out into the community and directly helping those in need. She stated, “Being able to actually meet and spend time with the people you are helping is tremendously meaningful. It makes it real for the children and it’s an experience that stays with them. We hope these experiences inspire the children to lead a philanthropic life. It also shows the children and families we help that there are people out there who care.”
Some of their projects include:
- Collecting items for children’s daycares or group homes (books, backpack/school supplies, sports equipment, toiletries, baby items or furniture, toys, etc).
- Throwing holiday parties at a daycare and bringing toys for the children.
- Purchasing grocery store gift cards for families in need to buy Thanksgiving dinner.
- Supporting families during the holiday season–Adopt-A-Family holiday program matches up local families in need with a sponsor to fulfill their holiday wish list of holiday gifts, household items, and a holiday meal.
What You Can Do
This was an amazing event, and a wonderful example of places for kids to volunteer with their family. Explore the many resources available to identify similar organizations in your area, and don’t be afraid to start a new trend. Our group had so much fun with this shopping event that we plan to make it an annual tradition. We might even try to do it during other holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
What are some family volunteer opportunities that you have done in your local community?