Posted: Nov 27, 2013 8:00 AM
 
Our favorite time of year is here. The food, the family, the warm moments. But at the heart of things is feeling grateful and giving back. Real families share family volunteering ideas and Thanksgiving community service ideas. Read on and get inspired to give back this holiday season — as a family!

The family that gives back together truly stays (happily) together. In our hearts, we all know this is true. Katie Hurley, LCSW, explains why this is so. Hurley says, "When children get involved in community service projects, they expand their worldview. They learn to empathize with and think about others. They experience happiness and increased self-confidence when they begin to understand that they can make a difference with their own two hands. When families volunteer together, they bond while helping the greater good. This provides opportunities to discuss important topics such as gratitude and empathy for others, while having fun together as a family."

When children get involved in community service projects, they expand their worldview. They learn to empathize with and think about others.

So when we put the call out to moms asking who gives back together as a family, we thought we'd get heart-warming answers. But what we didn't expect was for the response to be so overwhelmingly plentiful! Below are just a few of our favorite ideas to warm your heart and to get you thinking about your family's next (giving) holiday activity!

allParenting paying it forward: Towanda

^Towanda is the blogger behind Queenocracy, a blog where she shares tips and musings on work, parenting and life in general.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Towanda says, "Each year my girls and I go on a shopping spree for other kids. We go shopping, buy toys that they like and then donate them. They really get into it and it teaches them that the holiday season is more about giving than receiving."

allParenting paying it forward: Sherrill Bodine

^Sherrill Bodine is an author, fashionista, world traveler, mother and grandmother.

On Thanksgiving Day my family, my children and their 
children, prepare a complete turkey dinner for the Night Ministry Youth 
Outreach Center which serves 40 homeless young adults from ages 18 to 25.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Sherrill says, "The night before Thanksgiving I stuff and roast a turkey and prepare sandwiches for the 
family to nibble on. On Thanksgiving Day my family, my children and their 
children, prepare a complete turkey dinner for the Night Ministry Youth 
Outreach Center which serves 40 homeless young adults from ages 18 to 25. Everyone contributes in some way, from peeling potatoes to cleaning up 
afterward. We deliver not only three turkeys with all the usual dishes, but 
also two hams from my eldest son's farm to supplement the greater need on 
this long holiday weekend. The Center opens its doors to a larger group of 
homeless young to get their one hot meal of the day. Over the last four 
years this has become a tradition my family cherishes. We've had our menu 
planned for Nov. 28, 2013 for quite some time!"

^Dr. Mac is a family psychologist and PBS songwriter.


allPArenting Paying it forward: Dr. Mac

About his family's way to give back during the holidays, Dr. Mac says, "From the time our children were toddlers, we went together as a family to sing at convalescent hospitals for the elderly. We always went on Christmas day because the people left that day were often all alone, without loved ones visiting. Some were silent and looked like they were dead, while others cried and clung to us when we approached their beds. Some spoke gibberish, and many didn't smell very good.

 Our children were at times very afraid and hid behind us or begged not to go, and at other ages were more curious, comfortable and open-hearted. They learned first by watching, singing from a distance as we held people's hands, stroked their hair and wiped their tears. Every year our family shared the miracle of watching perfect strangers, fellow human beings, come alive and smile or weep at the touch of a hand, the sight of a child or the ring of a familiar song."

allParenting Paying it forward: Candace Lindermann

^Candace Lindermann is the blogger behind Naturally Educational
 

and Sparkle Mommy
.

We spend Thanksgiving morning assembling meals to be distributed to people who are homeless.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Candace says, "We spend Thanksgiving morning assembling meals to be distributed to people who are homeless. Usually the kids make cards or sort warm clothes and hygiene items but last year my daughter got to help assemble the meal trays. She was so excited to help in this new way.

 Every year, we organize friends to carol at a local home for the elderly. We also bake cookies to share and my two older kids — ages 7 and 5 — and a couple of other friends play piano.

 We also stuff a dozen Christmas stockings with little toys for the kids who use the local food pantry."

^Susan Sant is a military mom blogger and a parent educator.

allPArenting paying it forward: Susan Sant

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Susan says, "For almost 10 years my family has put together Thanksgiving Care Kits. Thanksgiving morning we get up and get the meal in the oven. There are always two to three hours of down time before I have to start preparations to get the meal on the table. During that lull, my children put together care kits for a local homeless ministry or food bank. I save plastic food containers throughout the year. I cut card stock to the size of the lids of the containers. My children draw pictures or write notes on the paper and attach them to the lids of the containers. We then fill the containers with a collection of personal care items. Some years we've filled them with nonperishable breakfast food items. When the children were younger, I set up stations for each item to go into the container. My children trick-or-treated to each station and got each item for their container. The children had fun and I was able to make sure each container received one of every item. Now that they're older, they take great care to make sure that each kit is filled with all the items. This time has become a treasured family tradition even as my children have entered their teens. We talk about how we have a responsibility to help others whenever we can and how thankful we are for our blessings. We're a military family that moves every one to three years. So each time we move, we find a new charity to donate our Care Kits to and make connections in our new community."

allParenting paying it forward: Rita Viselliis

^Rita Viselli
 is the president and founder of The Single Moms' Ministry.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Rita says, "My daughter and I have been giving back since she was born. For the past 21 years, I've delivered Christmas presents to children who have a parent in prison. I've taken my daughter with me since she was a baby in her car seat."

^Rachel Brockway is a mom, a volunteer, an account executive at HMA Public Relations and one of Twitter's Top 100 marketing professors.

allParenting Paying it forward: Rachel Brockway

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Rachel says, "I want my son to understand the importance of appreciating what we have and helping others, so back to the saying lead by example! Every year (now that Aiden is old enough — he's 6 years old), on Thanksgiving Day we deliver meals from the Salvation Army to those in need. We deliver the meals with his grandparents so that he can be thankful for what he has and where he lives and so that he can understand that others don't necessarily have the things that he does."

allParenting Paying it forward: Caci Nance

^Caci Nance is a farmer from South Carolina who blogs about her life on a family farm amid all the boots, buckets and bags of feed.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Caci says, "We participate in food drives and lead a 4-H club that creates and donates holiday gift baskets to the elderly in our community. We also participate in the Angel Tree program as well."

^Colleen Gauthier blogs at The Momfessional, a site for confessions of real-life moms.

allParenting Paying it forward: Colleenn Gauthier

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Colleen says, "Around Christmastime, our family used to 'adopt' a needy family through a charity and buy their Christmas presents for them. It was a nice way to get our kids involved. They could help choose some toys for the children in the family we adopted. While we enjoyed it, last year we decided to do something a bit more hands-on. We decided to volunteer at our local Salvation Army's Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. The Salvation Army opens its doors to about 100 people for its dinner, mostly people (many families) from local homeless shelters. My husband, our two kids — ages 3 and 8 — and I spent the afternoon welcoming the families, serving them dinner and just chatting with them. Our kids had a great time playing with the kids who were there for the meal, and it was a real eye-opener for them. When we left, my son asked if we could get the phone number of one of the boys he was playing with so he could go hang out with him at his house someday. I told him that the boy lives in a shelter and not in a house like us. He was really surprised and even said, 'but he's just like me! This was definitely an amazing experience for us all."

allParenting Paying it forward: Janae Melvin

^Janae Melvin is a public relations manager with Vox Solid Communications who loves sports, reading, singing and learning from her kids.

Since we did not have children of our own yet, we decided to shop for a child on the Angel Tree — it gave us the chance to experience Christmas shopping for kids and give gifts we would probably have given our own kids if we had any. Once we had children this became a family tradition.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Janae says, "My family does the Angel Tree every year. It started when my husband and I were married 11 years ago. Since we did not have children of our own yet, we decided to shop for a child on the Angel Tree — it gave us the chance to experience Christmas shopping for kids and give gifts we would probably have given our own kids if we had any. Once we had children — we now have a 5-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter — this became a family tradition. We choose the child together and my kids pick out the items. We use it as a way to teach them about helping those less fortunate, how it's our responsibility as humans to look after each other and to remind them of how lucky they are to experience Christmas with presents, a big meal and a warm home. Our gifts always consist of clothing — a coat is a must — and a toy or two. Last year we shopped for a child my son's age. He loved picking out the clothes and went for things he would like to wear. 

I know thousands of people across the country do the Angel Tree, so this isn't a unique or novel idea. But for my family, it's a tradition that we've carried through the years and have been able to share with our kids."

allParenting Paying it forward: Celeste Harned

^Celeste Harned is a farmer from Kentucky who raises hogs and blogs about farming from a mom's perspective.

About her family's way to give back during the holidays, Celeste says, "We adopt an Angel Tree child, but make sure it is the same age as our daughter. We go shopping for the child as a family and let our 1-1/2-year-old daughter pick out the child's toys and clothes so she gets to be an active part of the process." Celeste's family also owns a BBQ restaurant and she says, "If we have extra hams that don't sell on Christmas Eve, we give them to our local fire station and police station for their crews who have to work the holidays."

More on family time

Road trip games that will bond your family
Sports-fanatic family: Bond over a game
Favorite games for family fun

Topics: