Pick a cause as a family and give back this holiday season

It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the holiday hoopla of gifts, shopping and parties for your family. Yet the holiday season is often one of the hardest times for many families who struggle to put food on the table, let alone presents under the tree.

Make giving back as a family a priority this year and teach your kids the value of giving rather than receiving. Decide your cause as a family and how you want to contribute.

Here are some fantastic organizations and ideas for paying it forward this holiday season:

Greater Chicago Food Depository

One out of every six people in the city of Chicago go hungry each day. Thanks to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, more than 800,000 men, women and children receive food from one of its grocery or meal programs.

Get your kids involved to teach them that not every family always has enough food to go around. Each month the Food Depository offers a “Kids Day” where children 5 to 13 may volunteer with an adult to help with food repacking.

The Food Depository also allows you to create your own food drive, whether it’s a traditional food drive or a virtual one where donors can shop online. Go to chicagofood bank.org to register for your own food drive.

Christopher House

If you are looking to adopt a family for the holidays, Christopher House’s Family-to-Family program is a great option. Christopher House has five locations throughout Chicago and serves more than 5,000 low-income children and their families annually.

The Family-to-Family program matches a family or multiple families to provide gifts, food and goods for the December holidays. Once paired, donors receive the families’ wish lists.

You could request to adopt a family with children similarly aged to your kids so that they can be involved with the shopping and selection of the wish list items. For information or to be paired with a family, call (773) 922-7544.

The Hope List at Lurie Children’s Hospital

The gift of health is one that should never be taken for granted. Yet we all know many families struggle with illnesses, and a child’s illness can literally devastate a family’s finances.

The Hope List at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago provides many ways you can donate to a cause that suits you. Select from a toy store gift card, a meal for a family or even a winter coat to donate to a family enduring hardship.

You can help provide critically ill preemies and newborns with comfort items such as tiny pacifiers or sleep positioners, or by adding books to the NICU’s sharing book library.

Donors Choose

If you have school-age children, Donors Choose can be a great choice. It allows teachers all over the country to post projects and classroom needs. Donors can search and choose what projects interest them and donate.

Select the same grade classrooms as your kids or pick your child’s favorite subject to contribute to schools less fortunate. The scope of the projects ranges from needing books and art materials to requesting computer and technology equipment.

Donors Choose allows you to make a big difference even with a small monetary donation.

Ronald McDonald House

Every little bit can help, and it’s a great lesson to teach your kids. Ronald McDonald House, rmhc.org, knows a dime here and a quarter there can add up and mean a lot to families in need. Stop by your local McDonald’s to get a Ronald McDonald House Donation Box to collect your spare change.

Last year, the Donation Boxes collected more than $54 million worldwide. So get the kids digging in the couch cushions and under the car seats and see how much your family can gather.

Another way to give back is to organize a wish list drive for household items needed at local Ronald McDonald Houses. Many families spend weeks or months away from their homes to get treatment for their ill children and stay at Ronald McDonald Houses “home-away-from-home.” You can provide them simple but necessary items to make their stay easier.

Heartland Alliance

As one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations, Heartland Alliance serve those who are homeless, living in poverty or seeking safety. Each year the popular Adopt-A-Family program pairs families with an individual or family to buy specific gifts based on a wish list.

While the Adopt-A-Family program often quickly fills up, Heartland Alliance also has a Stuff-A-Stocking campaign where donors can sign up to stuff stockings for adults or children who celebrate the holidays alone. The stocking items range from toiletries and socks to toys and winter gloves. A stuffed stocking typically costs between $25-$40.

And if you don’t have time to shop, Heartland Alliance always accepts donations to support families through the holiday season.

PAWS Chicago

If your children are pet lovers, PAWS Chicago may be the organization for you. Your family can save the lives of homeless animals by creating your own fundraiser in your

community, extended family or school this holiday season.

You can also donate your time to help with animals in shelters, whether by walking dogs or giving animals some extra love. The Youth Volunteer program allows kids 12-17 to volunteer with a parent to help homeless pets together.

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