Wow. There are so many amazing ways to give. So many of them are year round opportunities, but every Christmas season you can count on giving opportunities around every corner. I love it. Part of me wants to just list all of the amazing ways that I can think of for each of us to give back, but today I want to focus on just one.
When I was kid my family participated in an angel tree each year. It is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Since then I’ve seen a lot of variations of angel trees, but this is how the one in our little Wyoming town worked. On the angel tree were paper ornaments. Each ornament was for a specific person in need. It didn’t tell you their name, but it included information on the specific needs and wants of this person. If it was a kid (which is what we always wanted to pick as kids), the ornament would include their age, gender, clothing size, if they needed clothes or boots, etc., favorite colors or characters, and a one or two toys that the child was really hoping for. Once we had our angel tree ornaments we would all go to the store as a family to shop for the angel tree children. What I really loved about this experience was that we had a specific person in mind, not that we ever knew who they were, but they were easy to imagine. Easy to think about and be excited for. And because we were getting them multiple gifts, we liked to pair the gifts with each other. If we got one of our angel tree children their favorite character action figure, then we might try to find a shirt with the same character. As we picked out the presents, we imagined how happy the children would be on Christmas morning. After we were done shopping, we would wrap the presents, include the necessary information on tags, and return them to the people in charge of the angel tree.
I’m a mom now, and like most parents, I try to teach my kids giving and service year round, but look for something extra to do each year around Christmas. While there are so many wonderful ways to give that are needed and impactful, I hadn’t yet found one that had quite the same influence on my children that the angel tree did on me all those years ago. Each year it has seemed to be my way of giving back, but not necessarily my kids'. They knew it happened, but they weren’t able to dive in and make the giving their own.
This year we discovered Operation Christmas Child by a Christian organization called Samaritan’s Purse. Each year in November Operation Christmas Child gathers shoeboxes full of gifts. You can use your own shoebox or they have ones you can use. Before you fill the shoebox you choose the gender and age range that you will be choosing gifts for. Then you fill the shoebox. They have suggestions on what you can include, plus a small list of things you can’t include, but you get to pick and choose what goes inside. Once the shoebox is filled you drop it off at one of the set locations. The organization then processes all of the boxes, includes a little book about Jesus, and ships the boxes to locations all over the world. You are even able to track which country your box goes to. The boxes are then given to children in need, many of whom have never received a present.
My children loved this experience. They were able to connect to it in a way that they hadn’t been able to in our previous Christmas service activities. They chose a girl between the ages of five and nine. They thought about this girl so much, and each item was lovingly chosen with careful thought. At first my oldest daughter was hesitant and unsure on what we should put in the box because we didn’t know what types of things the girl would like. I told her that God would make sure our box would make it to the right little girl, and would help the girl feel His love through our box. I asked my daughter if she would like to pray first. And she did. Fervently. My daughters were able to feel connected to the unknown recipient and feel the joy of giving to others in need. It was exactly the type of experience I had been looking to give them, and we plan on making this a yearly Christmas tradition.
If you are interested in giving through this organization you can go to https://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/. Their national collection week for the shoeboxes is each year in early November, but you can still pack a shoebox online if you want to participate this year.
Bethany Allen is a Southern Utah Family Photographer. She especially loves photographing interactions between family members and the crazy antics of little ones. She lives in Cedar City, Utah with her husband and their three crazy-but-wonderful girls.