During the holiday season, churches and organizations from around the world start asking for money to help people around the world. My family and I have already done one where we baked pies, apple crisp, and applesauce for a family on an island I can’t pronounce and have already forgotten the name of. The families there needed food and school supplies. The day is one we participate in each year and is so much fun as we get to see people from a church we stopped attending more than four years ago.
But today I want to talk about the people in our own communities. The people who we walk and drive by daily who have no clean clothing or food to eat. The families who are struggling from paycheck to paycheck by no fault of their own spending and lifestyle choices but because we live in a society here in the US that fails to recognize and admit due to politics the number of underemployed and unemployed people who stopped going into the office weekly and ran out of benefits. Because we fail to acknowledge that most companies want to hire part-time employees instead of full time to avoid paying benefits and insurance. Because we have stopped looking at full-time career positions and have turned job searching into a full-time job itself where you have to research a company and know everything about it and everyone in the office before even getting the notice they have received your resume. I want to talk about the people who will look through the food store and wonder what they can buy this week that will stretch as far as Raman noodles and pasta. The everyday people who work just as hard as you do but can’t seem to get ahead because of high taxes and the cost of goods.
This year I want to challenge you to think of the kids around the corner, in your neighborhood even, who won’t be enjoying a large holiday meal or an abundant holiday while you plan your long lists. For those of us who are already living modestly when it comes to the holidays, let’s challenge ourselves to make a few other cuts so we can help those around us. Maybe there is a coworker who is always bringing in the same lunch day after day without health reasons or who wears the same clothes each week. Maybe there is a student at your child’s school (or for my younger readers, at your high school or college) who you notice has a beat-up backpack or a pair of sneakers with the soles thining out. Would it be terrible to surprise them with a gift card to a restaurant or with a gift card to Target or Walmart? This way they can choose whether to get food or clothing and not feel singled out?
Perhaps you know some single parents? I have a friend who blesses single parents as the Lord lays it upon her heart. Last year and this year she has blessed my family with money to get the girls Christmas gifts and to get my youngest Fall clothing. Do you know what a gift it is to not have to consider where the extra money will come from but to see God truly provide in a big way? Her heart for this is something we should all have. Even if you don’t have millions of dollars, you can fill a bag with clothes you have outgrown that are like-new and give them to a family who is struggling. This past summer, we went through my youngest daughter’s clothing and donated three bags and two name-brand pair of sneakers to a family that felt like they’d won the shopping lottery. To them, they were as good as new. To us, they were overflow and causing the clothes to not fit in drawers. It helped us implement a new rule in our house: Item in; item out (a trick I got from Terri Savelle’s “Declutter Your Way to Success”). Even giving a gift card for $20 to Walmart or Aldi is huge for a single parent who is living on a middle class or lower income.
Be creative as you think about ways you can give to those around you.
- Do you have an abundance of blankets in your home? Think about who may need them: homeless people who have to spend all day in the city during the Winter. Donate a few to your local homeless shelter.
- Do you have too many kitchen appliances and supplies? Think about who may need them: single parents starting over after leaving all they’ve known or going through a divorce. Talk to your local domestic violence survivors’ shelter or divorce care group.
- Do you know a family who has talked about struggling? Give them gift cards or surprise them with some holiday decorations. While the latter sounds silly when someone is struggling, you’d be surprised how many families living in poverty would love to decorate but know spending the money is frivolous. Even though the dollar stores sell decorations, they also sell food and a box of cookies or a single serve pizza goes further than those decorations so most parents will opt for food.
- Do you know someone who is super creative but not doing well financially? Look through your home and round up some art supplies or go buy them a small gift bag with some new supplies in it. To them, it will be a smile waiting to appear while for you it was $10.00 you spent on them instead of fancy coffee and a muffin for breakfast.
- Does your work give you a discount on local attractions? Many families in need never get to see attractions because they can’t afford them. Talk to your company about donating a certain number of free memberships or tickets to families in the area who are in need. Employees can give them as gifts to friends or the organization can donate them to a local charity who gives gifts to families who are struggling.
This is just a small sample of ideas. We have participated in Christmas Angel programs and been recipients of them in our own family. As a teen mom and then a divorced mom, I have seen struggle and abundance. I have seen Christmases that overwhelmed me with the amount of stuff exchanged and I have seen ones where I’ve had to think really hard how to gift something to my entire family without spending extra money. I think it’s why I try so hard this time of year to bring you creative gift ideas. (I will be resharing them this holiday for new and long-time readers, as well as sharing some new ideas from this season.) I want gift-giving to be something fun and thoughtful not a cause of stress and shame for all who read this blog and are in my life. As we do this, it will extend into every area of our lives and we will find ourselves looking around us and meeting needs throughout the community.
Share your ideas below for helping those in need within your community to enjoy this holiday season.