Give kids the gift of giving

Winters in Grey and Bruce counties are a challenge.

We struggle to clear deep drifts from our driveways, battle snow-covered and slippery roads to get to work, bundle the kids up in snowpants, hats and mitts whenever they venture into the cold, and go weeks without seeing the sun.

When the wintry weather stretches on as long as it did in 2013/14, it’s no surprise we get frustrated with the cold and snow, and dream of escaping to somewhere warm.
Thankfully, many of us are financially fortunate enough to not have to decide between heating our homes or feeding our children. With electricity prices rising, and long, cold winters becoming the norm in recent years, an increasing number of Grey/Bruce families are struggling to pay their energy bills and risk having their heat cut off during the deep freeze that is winter. To keep the heat on, many people on lower or fixed incomes have to significantly reduce their grocery bill, which increases the need at local food banks.

It’s a difficult cycle to break for low-income working and single-parent families, as well as those on disability and government assistance. That’s why it’s important Grey/Bruce residents, who are in a position to do so, donate to local food banks and Christmas Hamper Programs. Not only does it help families in need today, it imparts an important lesson on your children as they enter their formative years, when their sense of philanthropy can begin to bloom.

Nearly every time I’m at our local grocery store, I forget to purchase a pre-filled bag for the local food bank. As I’m leaving the store, I see the $10 or $15 bags there and scold myself for buzzing through life without recognizing my responsibility to help those in need, even in such a small way. Yet when I have the kids with me, one of them usually reminds me that we should be supporting the food bank, because from an early age, we tried to teach them about the importance of giving. Though they don’t understand the socioeconomic situation of life in Grey/Bruce, they know giving to others is something we should do as often as possible.

Although our awareness of giving to others is naturally heightened in the weeks leading up to Christmas, local food banks will tell you the need is present every week of the year, not just during the holiday season.

So one way we’ve encouraged our daughters to give – and I’m certainly not the first to think of it – is to involve them in the decision-making process. If it’s at the grocery store, I let them choose the items we’ll donate, while at the same time broadening their understanding of healthy food choices by having them return the Kraft Dinner to the shelf and replacing it with real macaroni noodles, or picking up peanut butter instead of Oreos.

Taking part in toy drives is also a fun learning opportunity too, because our girls enjoy picking items for kids their age that they’d love to receive, while opening the door for us to explain how some parents struggle to give their kids a magical Christmas. As I try to impart a bit of my limited wisdom, they spend a lot of time throwing crayons, markers and colouring books into our cart, before heading to the doll aisle.

My oldest went through a Post-It Note phase last Christmas and excitedly explained (and negotiated) that whomever received our donation would love the sticky notes as much as she, though I had to encourage her to put a few bundles back on the shelves because her enthusiasm for Post-Its was a bit over the top. More importantly though, she was engaged, and that’s when you know you’re laying the groundwork.

By giving them ownership of the donation and having them personally drop the bags into our community’s toy drive box, they begin to understand the positive impact they’re having on someone less fortunate, which allows me to reinforce how lucky they are, and explain how there’s no way to tell who needs our support – they most likely have school friends who will enjoy a better Christmas because of their generosity.

We can always strive to do more, and to also give consistently throughout the year instead of just during the holidays, but this time of year especially, it’s important that those of us who can, help those who are less fortunate than us, yet still have kids whose eyes glow when flipping through the Wish Book.

And by having our children involved from the shopping stage to the dropping off of the donation, we’re hopefully setting our kids up for a lifetime of helping others.

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