Serve your community as a family this Christmas

child volunteering for christmas
Photo by Sue

Christmas is a great time to serve your community, your loved ones, and those less fortunate worldwide. It’s vital to teach your children about the condition of most people in the world, and it especially hits home when those in their own community live with less.

But you know what I’ve found? We grown-ups need the reminder just as much as our kids. In our fast-paced lives, it’s easy to speed past the world and forget how truly fortunate we are. As you change diapers and crunch Cheerios under your feet all day, there’s nothing quite like giving to remind you of your blessings.

We often have good intentions to give, serve, and volunteer during the holidays. But the season sneaks up on us, and before we realize it, we haven’t made the plans or set aside the time – and those good intentions remain just that.

I encourage you to explore options now to serve as a family, and to set a plan on your family’s calendar.

A Few Options for Serving as a Family

Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse – This is a great option to do with little children, because they can help out first-hand. Simply fill a shoebox with little toys, hygiene necessities, and school supplies, then label it appropriately for the right age and gender. Download the labels and find gift ideas on Samaritan’s Purse’s website.

Christmas Gift Program, Compassion International – Donate a small amount (they suggest around $18) towards ensuring that every child in Compassion International’s child development centers has a gift to open on Christmas Day. You can further the learning experience with your kids by fasting for one meal together as a family, and explaining that you are putting the money you’d normally spend on a meal to buy a Christmas present for a child on the other side of the world.

• Find out if there’s a clothing or food drive at your child’s school, and participate together as a family.

• Many churches have gift sponsoring opportunities during the Christmas season. Sponsor a family together, and use the opportunity to go shopping with your kids and explain what you’re doing.

• Keep small, non-perishable food snacks in your car, and when you see a homeless person at the intersection during a red light, give them a small amount. If your children are in the car with you, explain why you’re giving the food to him or her.

• Set aside funds for a uniquely large tip for a waiter or waitress at a restaurant. When you get great service from someone with a great work ethic and a cheerful attitude, nonchalantly leave them a big tip. It will completely make their day (trust me, as a former waitress), and your kids can experience giving first-hand.

• There are so many local opportunities in most cities – you can gift wrap, organize donations, clean, serve food, and play with kids. Search your local area online for ways you can serve your community, and do what you can to involve your kids.  Do Something and Charity Navigators are just two search options.

How does your family serve together? Do you make it a priority to volunteer in some way during the Christmas season? If you have a charity or organization to recommend, please share it in the comments – I’d love to hear more ideas.

Join the Conversation
Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. International Justice Mission ( is a good place to send your support. Donations literally help free people from slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression around the world.
    Here’s how:

    tacy’s last blog post…update

  2. oops, here ya go:

    tacy’s last blog post…update

  3. Great post!

    A reminder to plan for it now is just what I needed.

  4. Tsh: Hey! We met at Blissdom 08. Love the post. I just posted one on Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty that had the same concept. I want my kids to be engaged at a young age so it stays with them throughout their adult life. We sponsored our first Compassion child, Scovia – my daughter in Uganda, in February and the rewards from her are amazing.

    Amy Halleran (@beyondJEMS)’s last blog post…The Party You Have Reached Is Temporarily Unavailable…

  5. I remember finding not too long ago a site that listed all of these types of organizations/charities by community or region, anyone else remember seeing something like that? It’s pretty difficult to find organizations to assist if you’re out and away from the major metro areas.

  6. Mm. So true. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

    Angie (from over at

    Half Assed Kitchen’s last blog post…Poor person’s pan au chocolat

  7. I think it’s especially important to involve our kids in giving, and we try to do it all year long. During the holidays we pick a few things each trip to the grocery store to donate to the food drive bins that are located at the front of the store. We shop for a special toy to give to Toys for Tots. I found some great deals post Valentines Day this year on stuffed animals, and we will be delivering them to the Battered Women’s Shelter for the little boys and girls who are likely suffering just as much as their mothers.

    Great post!

    Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom’s last blog post…Thankful Reflection

  8. This is a great post! I just want to point out one thing to keep in mind during holidays. Make sure you really check out charities that are sending gifts oversees at this time of year. I learned the hard way that sometimes the priority of these organizations isn’t to simply give children gifts and needed items, but to spread religious propaganda, wrapped up with presents. All the while making good-intentioned families (who don’t necessarily share the organization’s views) unwitting accomplices.

    This was a big problem for me, it might not be for others, but it’s important to make sure you partner with organizations that truly champion the values you wish to share.

    And when in doubt, stick to local giving. Especially when you involve your kids – it’s easier for them to understand why they’re doing it if they can see the people they’re helping.

  9. I am SO glad you included Operation Christmas Child with you ideas! I am running the collection center in our area this year and I LOVE how even my 1 1/2 year old can understand that he is packing a present for a little boy like him.
    Heather – OCC’s website will have a spot to search for a location near you to drop off shoe boxes. HTH!
    Krista – I can’t speak for every organization out there, but OCC does not spread “religious propaganda” with their boxes. However, they DO include the true story and meaning of Christmas and an explanation of how God wants a relationship with every person, no matter where they are from.
    OCC is a life-changing ministry and I would strongly encourage everyone to get involved in it 🙂

    Courtney’s last blog post…Clothes

  10. After we became adults, the holidays were really hard to deal with until we learned that Christmas is about giving not getting. Thanks for a great reminder!

    Mary’s last blog post…Comment Reply Via Email: Closed Beta!

  11. Uh! “WordPress” is not really my blog! Sorry for the mistake!

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  12. We’ve done different things in the past, such as Angel Tree and ministries through our church. This year we are filling boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Cash donations are great, of course, but I like for my children to really get involved on their level in being a blessing to someone else. And filling up a box with things for someone just like them is something they can really relate to. Great post!

  13. We are thinking of traditions to start with our daughter who will be 1 in November. There are some great ideas here!

    Mandie’s last blog post…As Seen on my Friend’s Facebook Wall

  14. One other place for everyone to consider is their local battered women’s shelter/safehouse. Many times, these havens are overlooked by their communities. All kinds of excess household items (new and used) are needed and much appreciated by these places. Anything from toiletries, to clothing, food or toys. Many times, these women leave their situation with nothing but the clothing on their backs! What a blessing for these women and children to have a community support them!

    Valerie’s last blog post…measuring in love…

  15. I pressed post before I was finished, sorry!
    Another creative idea is to donate to local hospitals. The labor/delivery department is quite grateful for donations of extra infant clothing, blankets,stuffed animals etc. Whether for bereaved families or families who can’t afford simple items for their newborn, it’s a great cause to give to! Also, the PICU in many hospitals tries to give a holiday gift to sick children who must stay there during the holidays!
    Much love and Blessings to you and yours!

    Valerie’s last blog post…measuring in love…

  16. My blog reader just showed me a post you must have removed. I was just going to ask, if you do put it back up, are you going to include handmade toiletries such as soaps and cleaners? Thanks!

    Tiffany’s last blog post…Women of Faith 2008 and Then Sings My Soul Saturday

  17. Thank you for these great ideas! Our church is about to start up some programs, but I really want to look for more ways to serve during the Christmas season. Once my husband and I start a family, we hope that it will be second nature for our children to want to serve and give during Christmas (not just get get get!). 🙂

    Sarah H.’s last blog post…See What’s New at Lifestyles of the Organized

  18. my husband is a pastor, and the Christmas season is one of the busiest for our little family because of his church responsibilities. we are trying very hard to instill the importance of *giving* into our lives, for our son to grow up this way. this year we are doing shoeboxes, but i think as Josh gets a little older we will branch out more into service projects together.

    Krista’s last blog post…Infertility Awareness Week

  19. We’ve done shoeboxes with Samaritan’s purse (my husband’s favorite), Angel Tree and adopted kids from local families (my personal favorite). We also love donating through the World Vision gift catalog to loved ones at Christmas.

    A few years ago, our church sponsored a birthday party for a local orphanage and we bought presents for a couple of the kids – that was a really fun non-Christmas giving opportunity.

    Our little guy is only 2, but one of our goals as he gets older, is to sponsor a child his same age each year at Christmas and to let him pick out the gifts and clothes for the child to help teach him about giving.

    jodi’s last blog post…give a gift that keeps on giving

  20. Great blog! I just found Simplemom recently and I have to say, I’m inspired!

    Along with my MOPS group, we are doing Operation Christmas Child this year. It’s a fun and easy way to give.

    I try to teach my 3 year old daughter about giving and sharing throughout the year. One easy way is to involve her in passing down and donating clothing she’s outgrown. Now, everytime her clothes start to get tight, she says “We need to send this to my cousin!”

  21. Great post! Two favorites that are part of our yearly tradition are Operation Christmas Child and Gospel for Asia. GFA sends a catalog (similar to Samaritan’s Purse and others). Each member of our family chooses a gift that we will fund. Some gifts we’ve chosen – a lantern to light the way of a native missionary, rabbits for families in third world countries to raise, etc. Wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but has become an important part of our family’s celebration.

  22. At the holidays, our synagogue organizes a slew of family-oriented helping projects, from visiting nursing homes to making a latke party at a homeless shelter (I am a firm believer that holiday food is entirely non-sectarian!) to packing and delivering Christmas dinners to homebound seniors.

    Year round, we are involved in Family-to-Family (, through which we send a box of groceries every month to a needy rural family. My sons enjoy helping with the shopping and (especially) the packing, and my elder boy often encloses a few original artworks (dinosaur drawings anyone?) and some gently used books.

    Family-to-Family also sponsors a birthday box project specifically for kids which could easily be adapted to holiday significance. The basic gist is that kid party guests bring a gently-used toy or book and a shoe box; the hosts provide art supplies for decorating and wrapping the items, and one of the party activities is creating a gift package for a kid in need. More detail and explanation here:

    Naomi’s last blog post…The elephant in the room

  23. These are great. Especially the extra large tip idea. As a former waitress I know how hard these people work, and are often disrespected. You’re right, adults need the reminder to give as well.

  24. wow- these are amazing suggestions. I’m so excited to try some of these with my family this holiday season. Thanks so much!!

    • This year I came up with the idea of donating to our local Ronald McDonald House (they house parents/families who have sick children who are hospitalized so that they can be closer to them. Some of these people live 2 or more hrs away from the hospital). I sent out a nice letter to our families and friends this week inviting them to join us this holiday in donating to our charity and if so, to do it in place of exchanging gifts with us this yr. (If your house is like ours (2 Oct. birthdays) then you realize the kids already have a surplus of clothes and toys. There are Ronald McDonald Houses all over the US. You can find yours on the web and print their
      Wishlist. We will collect all donations at Thanksgiving. This is our first year doing this and I have to say my husband and I already have a renewed attitude about the holidays. . .it just feels like “this is what it is all about.” We are going to do something like this every yr now so we can teach our kids the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  25. Really good ideas here. I concur with Valerie. Your local woman’s shelter is one of the best places to donate goods and/or volunteer time. My sister’s family mourned the murder of her husband’s niece in late August because she did not have a shelter to turn to that accepted both mom and children. Now her children have no parents and deal daily with the trauma of witnessing their parent’s deaths. This happens to good people – I never thought that a tragedy like this could be so close to those I care about. Your donation to a domestic violence shelter could prevent a similar tragedy and bring comfort to families in crisis when they should be celebrating holidays as a family.

  26. avatar
    Mindy Weber says:


  27. Kids are always willing to give back and share, especially for causes that they see locally. There are so many great ways to give back and earn the good karma this holiday season. Giving is good and good for you. A simple way is helping out Feeding American and as they tackle hunger this season. Even superstar hip-hop artist Nelly joined in on the fun. Start a canned food drive in your area! It’s such a simple way to give back and spread the holiday joy at your school or in your community. Find out how at!

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