It’s hard to avoid the symptoms. “I want that.” “Mommy/Daddy/Grandma, buy me this and this and this…”
Here are some ways to help prevent your child from coming down with an annual case of “the gimmes,” and maybe even provide a little bit of instruction about the true spirit of the holiday season.
Start in your coat closets. Pull out all the old coats your children have outgrown or you don’t wear anymore and take them to Casa Esperanza (816 Cacique St., 884.8481), Transition House (425 E. Cota St., 966.9668) or the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission (535 E. Yanonoli St., 966.1316).
Or better yet, get your friends in on the act and host a coat party. Have guests bring coats that are used but still in good condition. Put younger kids to work cleaning out pockets and using masking tape to mark areas that need to be mended or buttons that are missing. Help older kids sew buttons and do simple mending. Other kids can decide which coats might need dry cleaning and which are ready to go. It’ll be a celebration sure to give everyone a warm feeling.
Another variation of this is to have a food party. Ask your guests for canned food and have children help pack it up for the FoodBank of Santa Barbara County (4554 Hollister Ave., 967.5741). You also can host toy or book parties along the same lines.
Sponsor a needy child or family. Transition House has more than 130 children to be “adopted” this Christmas, said volunteer coordinator Xochitl Ortiz. Interested sponsors can call her directly at 966.9668 x115 to receive a wish list from a child or visit the shelter at 425 E. Cota St. and pick someone to sponsor from the “Giving Tree,” where ornaments list a child’s name, age, and wish for something he or she would like for the holidays.
“We can definitely use all the Secret Santas that we can get,” Ortiz said. “We have almost twice as many people as we did last year or the year before.”
For those unable to make two trips to Transition House and want to just buy a toy, Ortiz said popular requests this year are Bionicles, Hot Wheels, My Little Pony, Video Now Players and Cabbage Patch kids. Wrapping paper, tape and ribbon are also needed.
You can also sponsor an adult, “by maybe donating a gift card to like Macy’s so that they can get work clothes after the holiday sale,” said Ortiz. “We’re hoping to get everything in by Dec. 20, only because if someone doesn’t get adopted, it gives staff enough time to go out and shop for that family or that individual.”
The Salvation Army (4849 Hollister Ave., 964.3230 x13) also has a similar program, with about 120 more families waiting to be “adopted” for Christmas. Working from a “wish list,” sponsors buy each child in the family a new, wrapped gift, one clothing item for each member of the family and a food or grocery voucher for Christmas dinner.
“You can even request a certain age group of children and we’ll try and match it as closely as possible,” said Lt. Stacy Cross, who asked that all items be brought to the Salvation Army by Dec. 17. There are also “Angel Trees” (similar to the “Giving Trees” described above) at most of the Santa Barbara Bank & Trust branches, La Cumbre Plaza and toy drives at seven of the local Longs Drugs locations.
Another way to give to the Salvation Army is making cash donations to bell ringers. Young children enjoy putting coins in the kettle and it’s a good chance to explain to them that the money goes to help people who are less fortunate.
Laurie Jewell Evans suggested this is also a good opportunity to teach children about budgets. Decide how much money you will donate this year, then put that money into an envelope in small bills and coins and keep it in your purse.
“Then, every time my daughter and I pass a bell-ringer, she can take a coin or bill from the envelope and donate it, until all the money is gone,” she said.
Another way to donate your spare change is through San Marcos High’s annual Penny Drive to benefit Unity Shoppe. Canisters are located at most of the local schools. You can also drop off your dollars and cents at the South Coast Beacon, 15 W. Figueroa St.
Sometimes all it takes is just a reminder of just how fortunate we are to put the holidays into perspective for all of us. Ortiz shared this story from Transition House.
“It’s not an over the top Christmas … when it’s a family as a unit that’s homeless, it can become quite a hard time for them to have to spend at a shelter. The parents get depressed because they feel like they’ve failed. The kids feel discouraged because they have to go back to school and tell their friends what they got for Christmas and they’re worried they might not get anything. And a lot of them don’t tell their friends they are staying at a shelter.
“It’s a really tough time for them, so we try to alleviate that … we surprise them on Christmas morning with all of the gifts. … We can’t do it without the help from the community … as soon as they find out what we need, everyone’s so wonderful as far as being able to provide.”