By Miriam Steinberg-Egeth

While December is the season when kids get excited about presents, it’s also a perfect time to teach them the importance of giving back. These eight creative and fun ways of kids giving back this holiday season will work for kids of all ages and their grown-ups, and they can be tailored to Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s, or just because. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah, you could do one for each night. No pressure, though, just pick and choose what works best for your family!

Spend some time talking about tzedakah. Tzedakah is a little different from charity, which is giving when you want to/feel like giving. Tzedakah is a Jewish value that means to give because it’s a mitzvah (a commandment) and we are supposed to help others. Which is not to say we can’t enjoy it, too!

Eight Nights of Kids Giving Back
1. One Person’s Trash is Another Person’s Treasure
Help keep things out of the landfill while creating a thoughtful memento for a loved one and challenge your children to make presents out of recycled materials. Some examples: a bird feeder out of a milk carton, a kaleidoscope out of a paper towel tube or a picture frame decorated with bits of broken jewelry. If you haven’t made a menorah yet, you can create one out of just about anything, like dried tube pasta and your old kind-of-hardened Play Doh.

2. Crafting for a Cause
Make cards and send them to residents at nursing homes or to people being treated in or working at hospitals. So many people won’t be able to be with their families this year, and any friendly drawing or message from your child is sure to brighten someone’s day and help them feel connected and appreciated. Cards for Hospitalized Kids can also help get your cards in the hands of kids in hospitals around the country.

3. Out with the Old
Encourage your kids to look through their toys and books and select a few things they don’t play with anymore. If they struggle with this task, remind them they might need to make room for the new things coming for Hanukkah and/or Christmas. Donate the items to a thrift store, daycare center or give them away on your local Buy Nothing Group.

4. Because Every Day is Earth Day
Grab some bags, gloves and clean up your street or your favorite park. You can frame it as a gift your family is giving to the whole neighborhood. Add in extra lessons about caring for the environment by talking about landfills, what happens to litter that goes down the sewer and how animals and the ocean are affected by trash.

5. Tzedakah Time
Many Jewish communities designate one night of Hanukkah as a night to give back. Have a family conversation about what causes you care about. Give your children special gelt (Hanukkah gifts of money) for them to give away and help them go through the process of choosing a charity and making the donation.

6. Lend a Hand to the Hungry
Making sandwiches for people experiencing homelessness is a tangible way for kids to see how they can help others. If you don’t feel comfortable volunteering to help pack food right now, your local food pantry may need help delivering goods which can be done without contact. You can also donate non-perishable items at that same local pantry. Teaching kids about hunger and homelessness can make a lifelong impression about caring for people in need.

7. The Gift of Time
A lot of volunteer opportunities may not be available this year because of the pandemic, but your time may be the most valuable thing you have to offer. While you’re spending extra quality time at home with your kids, try baking cookies for sanitation workers, raking or shoveling for a neighbor or visiting (socially distanced) with people who are homebound or isolated. You can also find COVID-safe ways to volunteer with Repair the World.

8. Think Big
What does your kid worry about? Help them think through what steps are within their power to change something for the better, like the environment, supporting people who are sick or feeding the hungry. Maybe your plan incorporates one of the ideas above, or maybe you can start planning together for a longer term project, which you can incorporate into the coming year and revisit next holiday season.

Service Section: Chanukah