The holidays are around the corner and soon it will be time for gift wish lists, busy store parking lots and a pile of Amazon.com boxes waiting to be recycled…oh, my husband just loves breaking them down each week (LOL, not).
It’s such a contrast to our recent India trip. Earlier this year, we took our kids to India. I had contacted an ashram I had worked with before and where my husband and I donated our wedding gifts to their music program for kids (check it out here). I wanted my 4 year old daughter to visit and spend time there, seeing how very different life can be for someone just as small as she is, across the world who didn’t have the luxuries she was so used to.
When we told her we were going there, she decided, on her own, that she wanted to bring the kids stickers, pencils and other school supplies since “they don’t have any.” Her friends donated items, she came with me to the store and we bought a bunch of supplies to fill our bags with and carry over. When we were finally there, I was almost in tears. The kids of that Ahmedabad slum’s preschool all sat in a circle, so happy Laila was visiting. And as she got up, she limped around the circle (she had hurt her foot earlier) handing out supplies, one by one, to each child (her own idea also).
After the experience, she said, “I want to help kids all over the world.” She asked me another time when we got back, “Mommy can I come to Africa with you when you go?” (I have a sustainable dental clinic in Uganda from years ago pre-kids where I spent much time volunteering with Just Like My Child Foundation in a small village).
While I would love to take her to Africa for a month, it just isn’t practical in our everyday reality right now with her little brother, school and the life stuff that takes over. But I realized that we don’t have to go to India or Africa to help children in need.
We can do it daily here in the U.S., fostering kindness as we support local charities. An organization I love called Kids For Peace creates opportunities for kids to learn about other cultures, participate in community service, and learn how to be peace-builders in the community with worldwide chapters led by children themselves. One of their events is the The Great Kindness Challenge, nationwide program in which schools are encouraged to perform as many acts of kindness as possible in one week in January. Last year’s results: Over 5 million acts of kindness in just 7 days, and any school can register for free.
But when the holidays come around…I start feeling like even with our efforts, between dashing around or spending hours online to buy gifts…the importance of giving back really gets lost.
And whatever it is about this time of year…Thanksgiving, holiday season decor everywhere, the obsession with shopping for those of us that have been blessed with abundance, the cold weather and the new year creeping up…it feels like one of the most important times to reach out to those who…just don’t have help.
We’ve always wanted to get our community in SoCal together to do something meaningful. Our event will donate gifts to the children in the domestic violence and homeless shelter programs through Crisis House.
This event started off as a grassroots movement in 2011, where my childhood best friend Sapna Patel and a few of her friends came together to host a toy drive in New Jersey, Santa’s Little All Stars. The goal was simple – teach and engage the younger generation about social responsibility and provide holiday cheer to children who could really use something to smile about. They partnered with local children’s hospitals, foster homes and orphanages and were able to reach over 100 children in their first year. Due to the overwhelming support and interest, they knew then that Santa’s Little All Stars would become an annual event…that has now spread nationwide. In over 10 cities at this point, it’s become an engaging, fun-filled experience for children, their families, volunteers and everyone coming together to teach and learn the importance of compassion towards others.
In 2013, I had attended one of their events on Long Island, NY when visiting family for the holidays. I decided to donate teaching a yoga class to the kids who were attending and it was so wonderful to see how excited the children were about giving gifts away instead of receiving them. I just felt the joy of giving…all around me.
It’s that feeling, that indescribable expansion of heart that occurs when you help others that I want to instill in my babies. It’s a life lesson that will allow them to rise as individuals through anything they do, anywhere they go.
The best part? It’s already in their hearts. As parents, we just water that seed to grow and connect branches far and wide.