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10 Best Give Back Programs To Teach Your Kids About Helping Others

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It's easy to forget that the holidays are really about giving back, especially when you run out of wrapping paper at the worst time or are debating whether to buy your child a tower of plastic almost as tall as they are. Your kiddo may not realize that giving back is a priority to your family if you donate to a charity without letting them have a part in the process. This doesn't mean you should hand your checkbook over to your little one, though. Instead, there are some amazing give back programs to teach your kids about helping others.

From donating things they no longer use, like loveys or too-small coats, to going in-person to a nursing home or a food bank, or even helping an animal or playing Santa for a minute by leaving a special treat for your delivery person (who seems to be showing up multiple times a day in the weeks leading up to the holidays), your kids will remember the ways they gave back in years to come. They'll also remember the smell of the tree and the special breakfast you made far more than they’ll remember what exactly they unwrapped each year. These 10 ideas will get your whole family in the giving spirit.

1. Find A Local Food Bank

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Volunteering at your local food bank is one of the best ways to teach children about giving back to their own communities. You can use the link on Feeding America to find a food bank close to home where you and your kids can volunteer for a few hours this holiday season. Through food pantries and meal programs, Feeding America distributes over 4 billion meals throughout the United States each year.

2. Wrap Presents At A Hospital

Many hospitals need help decorating or wrapping gifts for patients during the holiday season. You can call your local hospital to see what their needs are; some, like Seattle Children's Hospital have an Amazon wish list, and you can have your kiddo help pick out something special. While this can be a little sad, it also presents an opportunity to talk with your child about gratitude for their own health and how we can help those around us who are going through something scary or tough.

3. Practice Small Acts Of Kindness

You can let your child take the lead by using the Doing Good Together website, which has suggestions for tons of thoughtful ways to give back. If your kid is an animal-lover, they have ideas for creating pet toys that you could donate to an animal shelter. Other ideas include assembling care kits for people without homes, or cleaning up your neighborhood just because it's a good thing to do.

4. Donate Winter Coats

Kids are constantly growing out of their winter coats, so you may have a few hanging around the house that don't fit anymore. There are plenty of programs where you can donate jackets, including One Warm Coat and Burlington (you may remember it as the Burlington Coat Factory) which offers 10% any in-store purchase through Jan. 20, 2020 with the donation of a coat.

5. Visit A Nursing Home

The Holiday Project is an organization that gathers volunteers to visit nursing homes during the holidays. They're in their 47th year of coordinating visits, and they have many established locations already in place, but if you don't see your area, you can organize a visit to a local nursing home and they'll add it to their website. Your kiddo will love seeing all the smiles, plus, physically going to a home is a good reminder that while donations are wonderful, sometimes showing up in person is the best way to make someone's day a bit brighter.

6. Donate Airline Miles

The Make-A-Wish Foundation creates amazing experiences for kids with critical illnesses, and they need "2.8 billion miles, or 50 thousand round-trip tickets, to cover every travel wish each year," per their website. If you have unused frequent flyer miles from Delta, United, JetBlue, American Airlines, or Southwest, you can donate them to kids and their families. Once the miles are donated, they never expire. You and your kiddo can fill out the donation form together, maybe while you talk about the foundation and how happy it will make someone to see their wish come true.

7. Donate Gently Used Stuffed Animals

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Maybe your kid has a bunch of loveys on their bed that they need to say good night to every evening, and then there are probably even more second-tier stuffed animals somewhere in your house. You could take the opportunity to donate them to Stuffed Animals For Emergencies, an organization that accepts new and gently used stuffed animals, blankets, books, children's clothes, and baby items, and then, "finds organizations in their area who can use the donations for children in traumatic or emotional situations," per the website. This is a great moment to teach your child the importance of giving things away to people who will really benefit from having them, which is much more important than being shoved at the bottom of a storage basket.

8. Give A Refugee Gift

You can teach your kids about giving back to their community and also about the importance of helping on a global level. The International Rescue Committee helps people "whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and regain control of their future," per their website. They have a page devoted to gift giving, and you and your child can pick out a gift together while talking about the hardships refugee families face. It's normal for your child to feel sad and have a lot of questions, but it's also helpful to know that they can do something with their sadness by making a gift, maybe in the form of a year of school for two girls ($116) or emergency food for children ($68).

9. Use Eco-Friendly Wrapping Materials

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There's no denying that glittery, metallic, and gold-foil wrapping paper look pretty and festive, but these types of papers are actually not recyclable, per Mic. Instead, you could use paper grocery bags as wrapping paper (Trader Joe's has holiday bags specifically for this reason) and decorate with eco-friendly Washi tape or twine. (If you want to add a bit of glitz, eco-friendly options do exist now: Today Glitter sells plastic-free "bioglitter" in a wide spectrum of colors.) When your kids "help" you wrap, you can talk about how these materials are more friendly to the earth, and how finding creative ways to reuse materials is a great way to give back to the planet.

10. Leave Something For The Delivery People

I love the idea of showing gratitude for the people who deliver packages to your house even when it's snowy and cold. Your kids will get to play Santa by assembling a basket full of treats that the delivery person may like, like candy canes, chocolate, or even hand warmers, plus a handmade sign thanking them for the work they do. This is a really fun way to teach kids to show respect and gratefulness for the people who help our lives run more easily.