Worth repeating from a post in 2012.
Having worked in child welfare, I've learned a few things about giving to children in need. It's important to consider some of the challenges multi-stressed families face and how this can play out in an appropriate gift selection. It's important to remember that these families often live without many necessities we take for granted, including adequate food and housing.
Here are some tips:
- When buying clothing or coats choose dark colors over light--many families do not have easy access to a washing machine and dark colors can be worn longer with less staining.
- In colder climates hats, gloves, footed p.j.s, and warm clothing are always nice--many families lack adequate heat.
- Blankets and fuzzy throws are welcome gifts for the same reason, and many children sleep on couches or even the floor.
- Socks and underwear--families sometimes have access to used clothing but lack these necessities (tho one of my children is still certain underwear are not necessary!).
- Avoid battery operated toys--families rarely have the funds to buy replacement batteries (and may even lack a screwdriver).
- Avoid toys/games with lots of pieces--families often lack storage space and move frequently. If you give a toy with pieces, focus on those where it won't matter if a few are missing (Tinkertoys). If one missing piece will spoil the toy (puzzles) steer clear.
- Buy a storage container to go with toys such as building blocks.
- Always consider safety--some children lack adequate supervision and/or the safety of a toy isn't clear. As an example, I love Magnetix, but I would never give them to a family who might not know the danger of a child swallowing the magnets (they can stick together in the stomach).
- Buy durable toys. Hot Wheels cars have to be one of the greatest toys ever made!
- Board books are often appropriate even for pre-schoolers.
- Buy classic toys that a child will still play with months from now, including sports balls.
- Along the lines of safety, always give a helmet if you buy something like a scooter.
- Consider useful/life-skills gifts such as a knitting kit for a teen. Play dishes for young children can often be used in the real kitchen.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste are a great addition to all gifts. A washcloth or bath towel will also be greatly appreciated.
- A wind-up flashlight can be security for a child who knows the fear of having electricity cut off.
- Craft items/colored paper/stickers/washable markers/glue sticks (with storage box) can give kids hours of entertainment. You can even cull your craft closet for additions.
- Remember that over the holidays kids aren't getting free breakfast/lunch at school. Consider adding some high calorie/high protein snacks such as power bars, peanut butter, tuna packs. Special individual snacks will also be a thrill to children who often see their classmates with them (pudding snacks, cheese and crackers, fruit leather). Fresh fruit is coveted.
- Don't forget that teens love the addition of food too! Gatorade (powdered goes a long way), a bag of chips, Poptarts, granola bars, pepperoni sticks, or a movie-size box of candy.
- Feel free to bring gently-used items with the gifts--clothing, books, stuffed animals, toys, blankets.
- Finally, the most important thing. Write the child a note. Tell them you will pray for them/send them good thoughts throughout the coming year--then do it. You may only have a first name, but God knows exactly who you are praying for!