Teach your children the gift of giving

SOUTH CAROLINA — Youth today have tons of opportunities to help their communities and the world at large through church, school and social clubs. But sometimes a more personal, hands-on approach is needed to underscore the lesson of giving as opposed to getting.

When Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem, she did not expect gifts from anyone. As Jesus grew up, he certainly didn’t make a list of the things he wanted for his birthday. Yet more and more, people, especially children, are absorbed by what they want.

Jesus, along with his message of love and helping those less fortunate, has lost center stage.

Parents can help their children focus on the one and only reason for Christmas by becoming personally involved with helping others.

Following is a small sampling of the nearly endless ways that families can celebrate the birth of Jesus by living their faith.


There is no greater gift we can give to others than prayer. What better way to involve your children in the life of the church and the Gospel of Christ than to pray for those in need.

Angel Tree

Angel Trees can be found in churches, malls and businesses all over the state. The goal of the tree program is to provide less fortunate children with new clothing items, toys, and basic necessities at Christmas. It is open to children and families in need,  from those who are living in poverty to children who have been abused.

This is a wonderful way for children to help others. Most churches sponsor Angel Trees, which are decorated with angel tags bearing a child’s first name, age, gender, and a short list of desired items and sizes.

Let your children pick an angel off the tree. As a family, pray for the child you have chosen. As you shop, talk about what the little girl or boy might be like and how they can grow spiritually through God’s love. Encourage your children to draw religious pictures and write notes about the Catholic faith to include with the gifts.   


Helping and Lending Outreach Support works with the Charleston County Social Services Department to provide for children who have been abused or neglected. They also have a program in Lancaster called Partnership for Kids, and another in Dillon known as Partnership 4 Kids.

Church of the Nativity in Charleston is one of their biggest supporters, said Kate Nyquist, resource coordinator.

For more information on HALOS, call (843) 953-3715 or visit www.charlestonhalos.org.

If your family wants to help these children who have been abused, and there isn’t a HALOS program in your area, call your local Catholic Charities office for suggestions.

Support our troops

For children interested in the military, or who have family or friends serving overseas, Operation Shoebox is a simple, heartfelt way to help our U.S. Combat servicemen and women.

According to the Web site, troops are in desperate need of travel size hygiene items such as body wash, hand sanitizer, foot powder and lotions. Pre-paid phone cards are one of the most popular gift items.

Simply go to your local post office and pick up a free box for priority mail. The recommended size is the No. 4 or No. 7 box. Then fill the box with necessities and gifts. Rosaries, small bibles, prayer cards and handwritten notes are nice touches. Children may also include a self-addressed postcard so soldiers can write back. Postage is not required. Visit www.operationshoebox.com for packing suggestions.

Boxes can be mailed to Operation Shoebox, P.O. Box 1465, Belleview, FL 34421-1465 or call (800) 222-1811.


Catholic Relief Services works in over 100 countries and is devoted to alleviating human suffering through programs that feed, shelter, comfort, heal and educate.

Visit http://gifts.crs.org with your children and look at the many photos and programs available. Your family can help feed the poor, encourage self-sufficiency, build a better society or promote improved health.

Pray for guidance with your children and let them participate in choosing the program that means the most to your family.

Last year, CRS helped more than 80 million people worldwide through its services.

Food for the Poor

Food For The Poor is the largest international relief organization in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and helps the poorest of the poor in 16 countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

Founded in 1982, it is an interdenominational ministry that provides food for the starving, builds small houses, digs water wells, provides medicine and medical equipment for the sick and elderly, supports orphanages and education for children, and much more.

Since its inception, Food For The Poor has provided more than $4 billion in aid and has built more than 46,000 homes for the destitute.

The Web site at www.foodforthepoor.org provides videos of people who need help in third-world countries such as Haiti. Children can visit the various programs and look at pictures to decide how they want to serve.

Help our pets

For the animal lovers in your family there are many ways to be involved. Call your local shelter and see what they need. Children and parents can volunteer to do chores and spend time with the animals. Donate your old towels or bake dog biscuits and cat treats to donate.

Like other charities, shelters are   suffering in the economic slump. Susan LaCaille, an adoption counselor at Pet Helpers in Charleston, said they have lost $500,000 in pledged donations because of the stock market crash.

Families can also do some Christmas shopping at www.theanimalrescuesite.com. The site offers many ways to help, including sponsoring an animal that needs medical attention.

Heifer International

This is an excellent way to help entire villages living in poverty and hunger become self-sufficient.

Visit www.heifer.org and check out all the pictures of animals that can be given as a gift of life.

Your family can purchase flocks of chickens, geese or ducks for only $20. A cow is $500, but you don’t have to give that much. Donors can give a share of the cost and the Heifer organization pools the donations until they have enough to buy the cow.

The program was started by a Midwestern farmer named Dan West who was ladling out rations of milk to hungry children during the Spanish Civil War when he realized they didn’t need a cup, but a cow.

In 1944, the first shipment of 17 heifers left York, Penn., for Puerto Rico, going to families whose malnourished children had never tasted milk. Families that receive the livestock agree to “pass on the gift” and donate the female offspring to other families, so the gift of food is never-ending.

The simple idea of giving families a source of food rather than short-term relief caught on and has continued for over 60 years. Since 1944, Heifer has helped 8.5 million people in more than 125 countries.

Children will love looking at the photos on the Web page and choosing an animal to help other children and their families.

Remember to pray for those villages you are helping, and thank God for your blessings.

Samaritan’s Purse

Another organization that uses shoebox gifts is Operation Christmas Child. Packages can be sent to the Boone Processing Center year-round at 801 Bamboo Road, Boone, NC 28607.

Again, visit the Web site with your children. Seeing photos and watching videos of other children that they can help makes it real and personal.  

In the videos, one young girl talks about the shoebox she received while in a Russian orphanage. She now speaks to community and church groups about the impact that simple gift had on her life. It was the first gift she ever received, but she said the most valuable item inside was a picture of the two children who had packed her box.

Some suggestions for the shoebox are small toys, school supplies, hygiene items, hard candy, a flashlight with batteries, hair accessories, and clothing. Include a hand-written prayer, or drawings for the child. Do not include war-related items, chocolate, liquids, medicines or breakables.

Remember, the most important thing your family can do is offer daily prayers for the child who will receive your gift, and all the other children in need.

See also Free Ways to Help and Give Locally.