As holiday lights go up and we plan events with family and friends, the year's largest gift-giving season approaches. But sometimes the stacks of toys and deluge of advertising can start to blur the best aspects of the season, particularly as we watch our children's wish lists turn into "I-want-that" lists.
Instead, for many families in the Rogue Valley, the Christmas season has become a time for them to practice the art of giving, instead of getting.
How to choose the right opportunity to get involved this season?
"One place to start is 'What are you passionate about?'" says Karrie Kay of Riverside Car & Truck. "Kids have always been a huge part of our lives [so] every year we try to find some different families in need through various organizations."
Places to start might include local missions, churches, advocacy or service groups. Or use your imagination — maybe a care facility would be interested in a volunteer music recital or your family could make cards to deliver to shut-ins or mail to recovering soldiers. International events like Operation Christmas Child let your children shop for children in other countries.
Remember to ask for guidelines, particularly if your children will be coming with you. Not all situations are suitable for young ones and discretion may be necessary. Joanne Jackson of Medford recalls the helpful guidelines they were given. "We didn't want to embarrass anyone. It's a hard thing to accept gifts like that for some people. The idea was not to make a big deal of it." And what they delivered was a brighter Christmas.
For Sheryl Zimmerer of Talent, it began as a way to do something special for some close friends. She and her daughters would make trays of special goodies and drop them off on Christmas Eve. But it quickly grew. "It's not just family and friends," says Zimmerer. "It's neighbors, people that are alone, police officers, our mail lady — anyone we want to thank or that might need it. There are so many people that can just use a little love." Along with their decorated trays, her girls started sorting through toys and clothes to pass along to families that might need them, saying "Hey listen, these can be used by someone else and help them have a better Christmas."
Over the years, it has become a focal point in their Christmas plans. "By now they are well aware that they are some of the luckiest kids out there," says Zimmerer. The spirit of giving has caught on in her family. "If we miss it, it changes the whole tone of our Christmas. It's one of the favorite things we do."
Joanne Jackson of Medford saw an opportunity when her church asked for volunteers to deliver some gifts and food to families in the community. "We wanted to let them know that someone cared about them and their kids," she recalls. And it was important to her and her husband that their children also be involved. "I wanted to make it a point that [Christmas] is not all about them"¦It helped them to realize there are people in need." But the families they visited weren't the only ones to benefit. "It helped us grow as a family," she says. "And they felt satisfied that they had helped someone." So much so, says Jackson, that they will be volunteering again. "It has become a tradition."
For Karrie Kay, co-owner of Riverside Car & Truck in Medford, the habit of giving also started when she was younger. During her reign as Miss Oregon, one of her duties involved reading and responding to children's letters to Santa. One letter in particular, from a little girl who promised not to ask for warm boots for two years if her little sister could just get a baby doll, really touched Kay's heart. "That kind of started our tradition of adopting a family each year to include in our Christmas."
She has seen the tradition grow, as a couple of years ago her daughter asked to donate her birthday presents to a Sparrow child. "For her 8th birthday, we went out and made a registry at Target," recalls Kay. "People brought those presents to her party and they went to a Sparrow family." And her daughter has asked to do the same for Christmas this year. "I'm so proud of her," says Kay. "It's actually been great for all of us to realize how much we have, how blessed we are."
Along with their personal commitment, the Kays have made giving a business focus as well. Their car lot sports a Christmas tree for a Sparrow family and an Access Food Bin to collect canned and non-perishable food items. "We're also doing a couple of special things this year," says Kay. On their Web site, community members can nominate a family in need to receive a holiday meal, or donate to one of several charitable causes they personally support. And together their staff will be serving a holiday meal to the homeless this year. "It's been a tough year for so many," acknowledges Kay. "Business is tough — for us, too — but it's awesome when you can give back to the community you've been part of so long."
The wonderment of giving back — that's a gift and a tradition you can give to your children at any age. Now that's a Christmas present to look forward to.