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Holidays perfect time to teach spirit of giving

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

The holidays are known as a time for giving. But giving doesn’t just mean buying a child the most sought-after toy of the season. Sharon Gibson uses the holidays to teach her children how to give back to their community.

“We need to be ensuring a season of giving instead of getting,” said Gibson, a multicultural specialist with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “What we want to instill in our children is that service and giving of oneself should be a part of daily life.”

She’s passing on her message with more than just words.

When Gibson’s children were small, they didn’t spend Thanksgiving Day in front of the television, kitchen stove or dining room table. They spent it behind a steaming pan of turkey or dressing at a soup kitchen, spoons in hands, ready to serve.

Gibson says this type of service lets parents talk to their children about things besides Christmas lists and what they’d like to do over the holidays.

“The greatest gift that a parent can give a child is time together doing something for others,” she said. “Time spent serving community good provides parents with opportunities to discuss many issues important to the family.”

Opportunities to give aren’t limited to soup kitchens. If you’re looking for a way to give back to your community, Gibson offers this list of organizations that tend to have programs for the holidays.

• Religious groups: “Churches, mosques, temples, very often those organizations have a network to facilitate giving,” she said. “These are good places to start.”

• Department of Family and Children Services offices “are found in each county,” she said. “They often have organizations that come to them for help.”

• Civic groups, such as Rotary, Kiwanis and Civitan clubs, often need volunteer help with their holiday programs.

• Toys for Tots, Toys for Teens and the Salvation Army: “They tell you to bring a new item or something that’s ‘gently used,’” she said. “When giving used toys, make sure that they’re nice, not missing pieces and not broken. For example, don’t give puzzles that are missing pieces or cars with broken wheels.”

• Bill funds: “Sometimes there are funds set up for paying people’s bills,” she said. “These are ideal for making monetary contributions.”

• Food banks or homeless shelters: “Ask them what kind of items they need this time of year,” Gibson said. “You don’t want to take perishables, and you want to make sure what you’re giving is what you yourself would use.”

The last time she gave to a homeless shelter, Gibson was surprised by the items she didn’t consider. While she did think of blankets and toiletries such as deodorant, soap and toothpaste, she didn’t consider a backpack.

She now suggests filling backpacks with “those things that an individual can use throughout the year” like first aid kits, pens and paper, undergarments and personal items.

And, remember, homeless people aren’t just adults. Gibson suggests buying diapers and baby food for women’s shelters.

“There are approximately 2 million homeless people in the United States,” Gibson said. “It’s men, women and children, and it’s not just an urban issue.”

Gibson defines “homeless” as a person or parent and child with no place to live, or a person living temporarily with friends or relatives. “For all purposes, that person is homeless,” she said. “Think about that this time of year.”

Giving, she said, shouldn’t be limited to the holidays. “The holiday season is just two months out of the year. There are 10 other months when these people need our care.”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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