As parents and educators, we are tasked with teaching our children many things, whether directly or indirectly. Often, the values we learn early in life find a way to embed themselves into our very being, so it doesn’t matter where life takes us or who we grow to become, coming back to those values feels like we’ve come home.
Perhaps this is why giving, is such an important way of life. We can make giving central to our children’s lives, by practicing it ourselves, and by providing opportunities for them to give.
Here are six local initiatives and opportunities you may wish to pursue this season:
1. Grocery Shopping and Food Donations: Many grocery stores have food donation boxes by the exit (Real Canadian Superstores collect food for the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank). During your shopping trip with you toddler, talk to them about what you are buying for your family and their favourite things to eat:
- You can directly involve your child by asking them to help pick out a certain number of items for a family who might also like to enjoy these things. By setting a number (“Let’s find 3 things to buy for another family”) you can help teach numeracy and also respect your own budget.
- Don’t worry about purchasing lots of items. While it may feel good to buy a grocery cart worth of food for others during this time of year, it may be more meaningful to make a small, but consistent effort. This method may be more sustainable and will also allow it to become a habit, as opposed to a feel-good moment.
- Make your purchasing intentional, not just an afterthought on your way out. This will teach your child to think of giving at the beginning of a process and to give from the best of what they have, instead of giving from leftovers or using giving to simply get rid of unwanted junk (a common plague in the world of donating “gently” used items.
2. Toy Drives – There are many toy drives organized by various organizations. Give your child a budget (or if they are older, you can get them to raise/save their own money) to pick out a toy for a child. Check your place of worship/workplace/community centre for a local toy drive, or consider one of these:
- Calgary Firefighter Toy Association – drop off new, unwrapped toys at your local Calgary fire station
- Toy Angels – new unwrapped toys are passed onto the Salvation Army’s Family Assistance Christmas Program. Donations collected at:
- IKEA – Deerfoot Meadows, 8000 11th Street SE
- Marlborough Mall – 515 Marlborough Way NE
- Westbrook Mall – 1200 37th Street SW
- Calgary Police Service District Offices – click here to find a location near you.
- KiSS 95.9 downtown studios – 535 7th Avenue S
3. YYC Helping Homeless 2015 – Among the many things this grassroots group does to help out the homeless population is Calgary, is serve food downtown every Saturday at 6 pm (They refer to them as “fiestas”). Some ways to involve children in the fiesta:
- Involve children in cooking, food prep and packaging. Whether you are choosing to cook a hot meal, make sandwiches or bake cookies, there are jobs that can be done with your children: washing produce, assembling sandwiches (even if it’s as simple as adding the top piece of bread), mixing, measuring, counting, placing items in ziplock bags etc. If you are unable to attend in person, a volunteer can still pick up your food to serve. A host of skills can be developed and reinforced during this process including language development, numeracy, good hygiene, problem solving, fine-motor skills and creativity.
- If you children are school-aged, consider bringing them to a fiesta and experience the people at the other end. Not only is it a nice way to spend some family time, but it helps to build compassion and get a glimpse of the struggles that some people in our city our facing
4. The Shoebox Project – This project consists of filling a shoebox with items a woman would be happy to receive and then wrapping the shoebox into a festive gift (make sure to wrap the lid and box separately so that it can be inspected). Typically, the shoeboxes are dropped off at a local women’s shelter or centre. As your wrap your own gifts this year, you can contact this website and create a few gifts for the women who access these spaces, or you could get together with a group of family, friends, or colleagues and make a day of it.
Recently, Sikh Youth Calgary organized a community event allowing anyone who was interested to bring and wrap items to be donated. There were a lot of children at this event and they had a great time. Sikh Youth Calgary actually made it into a contest where people worked in small teams and at the end, had a vote to determine whose box was wrapped the nicest. A trio of pre-teen girls walked away with the prize: an awesome gift basket full of goodies. Once again, depending on the format your shoebox project takes, a variety of skills can be developed through:
- Setting a budget – numeracy skills
- Identifying what should be bought – using logic to deduce what is needed/wanted
- Gift-wrapping – using numeracy skills (measurement), creativity, problem solving
- Problem-solving – address any bumps along the way, for example, what happens if what you want to buy exceeds your budget? What happens if you run out of wrapping paper?
5. Welcoming Syrian Refugees – As large groups of Syrian refugees start to arrive in major Canadian cities, consider going to the Airport with your family to greet a group. You may wish to do one or a few of the following things to not only give them a warm welcome, but to use this is a learning opportunity for your children:
- Make welcome cards/banners – Allow children to use their artistic abilities to design and create their own items. For older children, you may choose to challenge them to integrate some Arabic words into their designs
- Bring flowers – flowers seem to be a universal gift. Again, let your children choose the flowers. If they are older, challenge them to do some research to discover whether certain flowers signify certain things in a particular culture.
- Bring coffee and snacks – It can take an average Canadian quite a bit of time to get off the flight, through the airport and into their homes. This wait is much longer and intimidating for a family of new Syrian refugees. Some coffee/tea and snacks such as cookies and sandwiches can help to tie them over.
- Volunteer to show new arrivals around their neighbourhood. If you can spend a few hours, or a few days, offer to show new families the following places: closest grocery store, doctor’s office, library, bus stop, school as well as how to use these services. By bringing your children along, it will allow them to start engaging with people that are “different” than them (there may be linguistics and cultural differences), and show them that these differences are not barriers. It also gives your children the chance to work on their social skills.For more information on getting involved with Syrian refugees in Calgary (including arrival dates and times, as well as ongoing calls for donations and services) please visit:
6. No Crib for a Bed – Neighbourlink has placed 100 white cribs throughout Calgary with hopes of collecting supplies for families in need around the city. You simply bring your donation and drop them in the crib. This is a fantastic, visual way to involve children. As we were walking through the Genesis Centre, my two-year-old saw the crib and was immediately intrigued. Start a conversation about babies and the things babies need to stay safe and healthy. Allow your child to suggest items you can donate, whether you go out and buy new items, or pull from a stock at home. If you find that your child is suggesting things that may not be relevant, try reading a story about a new baby and discuss why the baby might need the things mentioned in the story. Or simply, take time to observe babies when you are out and about with your children. By prompting with comments like, “Oh look, that baby is hungry. What is he eating?” you may be uncover more helpful suggestions.