We started to do an activity focused advent calendar with the lils when they were just old enough to get into the Christmas spirit. I borrowed the idea from my twitter friend, @missfish in 2008 and the daily December activities quickly became a favourite tradition for our family. I am not organized enough to have an actual advent style calendar, and often don’t have the activities planned out more than a few hours before they happen, but we’ve all been happy with the results.
Each year, I vow that it will be different, but as I sit down tonight to try and plan out the month (yes, I realize that we are already two days into the month), I can see that it’s not going to be too different from previous years. Yes, we’ll still be working without a firm plan for a lot of the days, but thanks the fact that I have at least recorded the activities from previous years, I know that we will be doing all of the things that we love to do as a family.
Again this year, we have decided to make a concentrated effort on helping to support those in our community who are less fortunate. As the lils get older, we want to involve them as much as possible. It’s important to us that they see us trying to help those who are less fortunate than we are, teaching them to be giving and empathetic. We are very thankful for our happiness, health, and home, and we know that others are not as fortunate. We want to show our children together can do something to help.
I often get asked how we can include small children in this charitable giving. Here is a list of the activities that we have participated in the past, or investigated for this year. Some represent a monetary donation, a donation of time, and some require both. Not all are applicable for families with young children, but I am going to try and get them involved in as many as possible! It is always best to check with the recipient of your donation to see what age is appropriate for participation. Some will encourage the participation of little ones, but others might require that they be excluded or take a limited role.
The Ottawa Foodbank is a local institution that helps to feed families in need, as well as supply food to shelters and other programs for their meals. This month, we will be targeting their “most needed list” with a donation each time we shop. While volunteers generally need to be over 14, they may have some options for family volunteer activities, providing the children are 6 or older. You can volunteer together to do things like work in the warehouse, do office work, or work at special events. The volunteer contact information is on their website.
The Christmas Exchange also seeks to provide assistance with feeding families in need, through the Christmas hamper and store vouchers programs. When I was a child, we used to always do Christmas baking while listening to their Christmas Cheer broadcast on CFRA. This year’s Christmas Cheer broadcast will be held on Friday, December 6th. It’s a good opportunity to listen to some Christmas carols, and make a donation if you are able.
The Shepherds of Good Hope, and many local churches and houses of worship (many of Ottawa’s houses of worship are listed here) also have programs where you can “adopt” a family, and build a hamper containing food for Christmas dinner, essential goods and small gifts. You can see if your family can help to build a hamper by purchasing the items they need, pack hampers and wrap gifts, deliver hampers right before Christmas, or adopt a family and do all of those activities. With the Shepherds, when you call (613-233-7007), you can be matched to a family that is in great need, but that meets your wishes (ie size or location). You then contact the family representative and discuss what their needs AND wishes are. There are opportunities for younger children to help out in all aspects of this process, but some tasks may be more suitable than others. We have elected to gather and deliver the hamper to the family that we were matched up with, so our lils will have a significant role.
Many local elementary, middle, and high schools, churches, and community associations also get involved with food drives, charitable fundraisers like bake sales and holiday meals. These drives and events provide a great opportunity to talk about those less fortunate, and why you support the activities. You can help out by volunteering with your child in preparation for the event, gathering donations, baking, cooking, or helping out at the event. School, church, and community run events generally offer great opportunities for children of ALL ages to help out. Please check with your local school, community association, or church to see what they have planned.
There are a few institutions in Ottawa that host holiday meals in the days leading up to Christmas, starting in early December! This presents an opportunity for those looking to volunteer, but not on Christmas day. In addition to using volunteers on that day, they may have a need for volunteers in preparation for meal. The Mission is one that holds the meal in advance of Christmas – it’s December 22nd this year. My lils are still too small to help out with the serving at the Mission, but have been baking desert for them for years! We will be baking cupcakes through Cupcakes 4 Christmas again this year. This is one of our favourite things to do, as there are always a few extra cupcakes! I am not sure if they need any more bakers for this year, but you can contact either organization to see what they need.
This year is our second year contributing to the creation of prepared and delivered meals through Essence Catering. Chef Jason and his team collect all the ingredients that are needed to cook up full meals for needy families in our community, spend the hours leading up to Christmas prepping the meals, then go out and deliver them to the families. Last year we contributed some turkeys, and I am waiting to hear what they need from us this year.
A number of local restaurants and houses of worship also hold free meals for those less fortunate on Christmas day. Many accept food donations, as well as need volunteers on Christmas day to help out. If you cannot make it on Christmas day, they also accept food donations in advance. There are a number of participating restaurants listed here.
In the lead up to Christmas, we will also try to bring some toys to children in need. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Each year we do two things; go shopping as a family and pick out toys or games that our children would like, but donate them to Toy Mountain, who only accept new toys; and we clean out our toy bins, and donate the toys and books that we don’t use any more to a shelter (the Community Information Centre of Ottawa has a searchable database to help find shelters), or church, or a thrift store. Thrift stores, like the Saint Vincent de Paul take all sorts of donated goods, including toys, and help out lower income families by offering them for sale at low cost, or in some cases, giving the goods to needy families.
Finally, we will be gathering up our old snow suits to donate to the Snowsuit Fund, which will pass them on to children in need. My lils have fun helping us by gathering the pieces and matching up hats, mitts and boots, and then dropping them off with us.
Hope that this gives you some ideas for how you and your family can help out!