Historically for the advent calendar I’ve tried to do some sort of charity event. In the early days, I sat down with the kids and our annual donation budget and had them pick a charity they’d like to give it to. That didn’t work out so well as they always wanted to give it all to the World Wildlife Foundation because when you donate there, you get a free stuffed animal. WIN-WIN, from the kids’ point of view, but I wanted to do something more local and something that felt more like GIVING and less like SHOPPING.
So eventually I gave them a list of local charities, like the snowsuit fund and the food bank, and let them choose from there, but they were not very enthusiastic, and I really felt like just clicking some buttons on the computer to donate money was such an ethereal thing for them, and not really anything with meaning.
The last couple of years I’ve just done the cash donating myself, and instead taken the kids to the Food Bank’s Fill the Bus event (which is on this Saturday, December 5). We’d make a special trip to the grocery store and get a “most needed” list and do our best to get everything on it, plus a few items the kids especially loved and wanted to give. They actually really enjoyed it, and it felt more real, and I was happy with that.
(Also wanted to mention that there’s an “Unload the Bus” event around dinnertime for volunteers who are willing to help unload, sort, and repack the stuff from the buses, and it’s a bit of a party and fun time for the whole family.)
This year I was out and about and I saw a sign advertising the Kanata Food Cupboard’s “Adopt a Family” program, and I thought, BINGO. This is what I want – for my kids to be thinking about a real family, close to our home, that is a lot like us, that needs a little help. So we signed up to take on a family of 5 – a mom, dad, and three kids, just like us.
And so far, it’s been amazing.
When you sign up to adopt a family, you are obligated to provide all that’s required for a proper Christmas dinner – a frozen turkey, stuffing, vegetables, and sweets for dessert. You’ll also get a wish list from the family of their most needed items for a happy holiday – for us, this was clothes for the mom and dad, and winter boots and toys for the kids. The food bank also recommends adding things like wrapping paper and toiletries.
There’s a lot to do to get ready and so much the kids can do to help, too. First we had a big brainstorming session where we talked about the family and what we would like to give them, both food and gifts. Then came the Big Budget talk – we had a budget for this event that was actually already higher than what we’d normally donate at Christmastime across all charities, but even that was hard to stretch. We would have loved to have given them ALL THE THINGS but we had to rein it in and decide what was really, really important. It’s tough – is it better to buy them something really treaty, like say, very nice coffee, or to spend that money on something they probably need, like shampoo? Is it better to buy them toys or school supplies? Is it better to buy them socks or cookies? These are the things that this family is thinking about EVERY DAY. It was pretty eye opening.
Then came the shopping flurry, and unlike my own Christmas shopping, which involves going to the mall and just getting everything on my list without really looking at prices, this time we were actively trying to stretch our dollars as far as possible. The kids were on flyer duty, looking for deals on anything on our Food List, and the Little Miss was invaluable at the mall on Black Friday scoring half-price deals at the Old Navy and The Gap. I took the kids to the toy store one day, and each of mine got matched up with one of them and, given a budget, picked out what they thought was best. It was great to see them really think about what they’d want, and how much money they had, and how to get the most for their buck (hint: look at the sale items!).
The food list was the biggest deal for me. We wanted to add a lot to it – all the fixings for a big pancake breakfast as well as all the treats we could fit in there – and I was worried about how much it was all going to cost so I took the kids to the grocery store to price it all out in advance. I have to admit, when I do the grocery shopping I just throw stuff we need in the cart and don’t actually pay any attention to the prices at all – I know our average weekly bill and it’s always around there and so, done. So I was shocked to discover that bacon is like, $7 a package, and a pound of butter is almost $6. EEP. Coffee was another killer – add cream and you’re looking at $11 at least, for a small container. But I really wanted these things, so we had to make some hard choices to be able to fit them in. It really made me wonder what would happen in our own house if I had to spend so much time every week thinking about this, and really putting things together on a tight budget.
We’re still pulling our list together but I wanted to blog about this in case there were any other interested families out there. I’m not sure if the other food banks in town have a similar program but I know the Kanata Food Cupboard still has families of all sizes available. You can sign up for just a single person, or a family of 3, or a family of 8 – however big or small you can handle. You can provide everything yourself, or get your office or Parent Council to all chip in and go together. The Food Cupboard says that you should expect to spend about $300 on a family of four, but really we are finding it’s higher than that – budget at least $100 per person in the family you take on. Important tip: keep the things you buy for the family on separate receipts, if possible, and keep them all together as you can ask for a tax receipt for your donation when you bring it in.
I think we’ve definitely found our newest Christmas tradition.