At the risk of sounding cliché, we are so lucky. We live in a fabulous city, with all kinds of things for families to do. We sometimes get to wear flip flops in December. We have great restaurants. We have some of the friendliest people around.
That said, it can be so easy to get into a bubble. To forget there are those among us who aren’t just experiencing first world problems. Families experiencing real problems. They might be perpetually sick. They might have lost a job. They might be having trouble making ends meet. They might desperately want to pull themselves out of poverty, but everything seems to be working against them.
Yes, we should give all year, but what about today? What about this month, this year? What about setting an example for our kids that we value our community and we want to make Austin an even better place to raise a family?
Today, December 3rd, is #GivingTuesday, a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. The first Giving Tuesday took place last year, with more than 50 million people spreading the word about giving and increased charitable giving to more than 2,500 Giving Tuesday partners in all 50 states in the US. There are over a dozen local partners, and each one is encouraging donations in its own way. For example, today only, you can become a member of the Wildflower Center and save from $5 to $55 with discounts on memberships, which gets you a free sunflower tote bag and an invitation to the Members Preview of the new Luci and Ian Family Garden opening next spring.
If you can’t swing it today, Keep Austin Generous is encouraging Austinites to give back December 6th-13th and will be providing us with opportunities to help those affected by recent flooding.
Here are a few other ways you can consider giving back this holiday season:
- Wrap presents for Operation Blue Santa. If you went to the Chuy’s Children Giving to Children Parade this year, you know that there are mountains of toys waiting to be wrapped to distribute to kids across Central Texas. Blue Santa serves more than 3,800 families each year and is responsible for making 15,000 children’s holidays a little brighter. You and your kids can sign up to wrap presents from noon til 8pm during the week and noon until 6pm this Saturday, December 7th. If you missed the parade, you can also drop off (unwrapped) toys for kids up to age 14 when you volunteer or at dozens of locations around town. December 14th is Delivery Day, so you can also arrive at the Blue Santa warehouse from 8am until 1pm to help distribute toys.
- Get involved with Little Helping Hands. Little Helping Hands is a locally-based nonprofit that facilitates family volunteering by creating and organizing monthly volunteer opportunities suitable for children as young as 3 years of age. You can sign up for emails to find out about ongoing volunteer opportunities (hint: these fill up extremely fast, so sign up as soon as you see the emails!), which are designed with kids in mind to be short and include discussion questions after the activities to get little minds thinking. Your little ones can even get free ice cream from Amy’s after completing three activities!
- Adopt a family. It can be hard for children to understand the whole concept of giving to others, so it can be easier when you are working off a wish list of a family right here in Austin. One thing to keep in mind is that you might need to go in with another family (we have partnered with a neighbor in the past) since the wish lists can definitely add up. Many of the deadlines to sign up have already passed, but here are a few organizations which offer Sponsor a Family opportunities:
- SafePlace is a nonprofit which works to end sexual and domestic violence. Privacy and confidentiality policies mean you won’t get to meet the family you sponsor. You can either choose to Sponsor a Family or help the organization’s Shop for the Shelter Program by dropping off holiday items or even wrapping paper and tape.
- LifeWorks offers counseling, education and workforce development, housing and homelessness services and youth development programs in Greater Austin. The organization has both Adopt-A-Youth and Adopt-A-Family opportunities.
- Texas Advocacy Project provides free legal services statewide to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Sign up to make these families’ holidays a little brighter here. [Note: gifts need to be dropped off at Texas Advocacy Project by Friday, December 6th.]
- The Salvation Army is is a Christian ministry that provides services to anyone regardless of religion or beliefs. Their Angel Tree program provides gifts for disadvantaged children in the Austin area. Volunteers “adopt” angels and purchase gifts to place under “Angel Trees” at workplaces and Lakeline and Barton Creek Square Malls. Generous Donors select Angels, purchase gifts, and return them to the Angel Tree by December 14 and recipient families pick up gifts by Christmas Eve.
- The Austin Children’s Shelter protects and heals children, young adults and families in need. Their Fulfill a Children’s Wish Program has now passed, but there are still plenty of opportunities to help out the children in their care as part of their Project Santa program.
- Home Instead Senior Care provide thousands of hours of senior home care services annually to seniors in their homes, in assisted-living facilities and even in nursing homes. You can sign up to be a Santa to a senior until December 18th.
- Become a Big Hearted Family. Big Hearted Families is an online resource with simple, fun and engaging activities for your family to live generously. You can select an activity by theme, cost or age and you’ll find a details list of supplies you might need, reflection questions to get your family talking and even book suggestions to reinforce what you learned about giving back. A few activities which are popular around this time of year are Make Room for the Hungry, Make No-Sew Fleece Blankets and Make Birdseed Cookies.
- Adopt a creek. Would you like to get your family outdoors more often? Perhaps you are a Girl Scout leader or live in a great neighborhood? Maybe your family or a group of families would like to adopt a creek through Keep Austin Beautiful. This is an ongoing volunteer commitment, so you’d need to commit to taking take of a 1/4 mile stretch of an Austin creek for at least two years. Keep Austin Beautiful and the City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department will supply you with a Cleanup Kit, trash collection, tools and educational activities to make it easier to take on.
- Be a substitute volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels and More seeks to nourish and enrich the lives of the homebound and other people in need through programs that promote dignity and independent living. If you are in town this holiday season, you can volunteer for one day only to help deliver meals. Check here for meal delivery routes and to find out more.
- Give fellow Austinites a welcome home gift. Front Steps works to provide a pathway home through shelter, affordable housing and community education.. You could assemble a Welcome Home Basket for individuals moving into housing. Contact Front Steps for more information. Baskets could include:
- A homemade card
- Toilet paper, a shower curtain and shower books
- Cups, plates and utensils
- Easy recipe books
- Books and movies
- Practice random acts of kindness. It might be too overwhelming to add to your already overfull plate this holiday season. What are some little things we can do each day to make our community a better place? You can find ideas to practice random acts of kindness all over the internet (some people have even incorporated acts of kindness into their advent calendars!)
What’s your favorite way to give back during the holidays?
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]