The last few years, we’ve added another tradition to our holiday season. A local agency that provides services to the poor has an “adopt a family” program during the Christmas season. You sign up, are assigned a specific family (anonymous) and buy Christmas gifts and other supplies (canned foods, toiletries, etc) for them. The family provides some ideas on possible gifts.
My wife and I both grew up in working class families, with parents who struggled to get by financially. We both became the first in our families to attend and graduate college and are both well-established in white-collar careers. We’ve jumped a couple rungs on the socioeconomic ladder and consider ourselves to be very fortunate. The downside is that our kids don’t have the same appreciation for the struggles many families face. We can try to tell them, but it doesn’t have the same impact as actually experiencing the struggles. When we’re at Target explaining that we’re buying paper towels and toilet paper for another family, I think it makes more of an impact that we are fortunate. We worry about things that funding retirement plans and 529s at a high enough level; other families struggle to cover the cost of basic household goods.
We took the kids to Target for the shopping spree. They are 9 and 6 are quite high-spirited (especially at stores), so it’s quite a challenge to keep them corralled. In addition to the paper goods mentioned above, we also bought several nice, fluffy towels. Then onto the fun stuff – toys.
My son and I were given the task of picking out about a dozen Hot Wheels cars for the family’s boy. My son tired of the activity after a bit, but I continued to methodically search through the cars. My wife asked me if there was a method to what I was doing. Definitely – I was looking for cars that I would have enjoyed as a kid – I had tons of Hot Wheels when I was younger.
As with most things, the dollars have a way of adding up. A couple of times, my wife asked if it was OK to spent a bit extra on a few items. My response is always the same – sure. Six months from now, we won’t remember that we spent twenty dollars more than we intended to – but the recipient family will remember the gift it bought.
We hit the toy aisle hard, purchasing several toys and a few board games for the family. We pushed two carts of goodies up to the register and checked out. We asked for gift receipts for everything, resulting in a cascade of paper flying out of the cash register (there’s no option to receive one all-encompassing gift receipt – we asked). The kids were a bit cranky by this point, but the mission was accomplished. Well, mostly accomplished. Everything still needed to be wrapped – and I’m the designated wrapper in the household.
Is it worth it? Absolutely. This year, the family we “adopted” gave us a thank you card (via the organization’s employee). The woman had become emotional when she saw all the gifts. Some of the presents would be going under their tree, while others would be delivered by Santa on Christmas. We helped keep the Santa magic alive for those kids this year. That’s priceless.
[Editor’s Thoughts: We gave a few toys through a campaign that at my son’s day care. They didn’t ask for something as extensive as this. The requested toys didn’t include Hot Wheels though. If it did, I may have been in a pickle if I used Kosmo’s methodology. I’m not sure if the General Lee is available nowadays. Also, I wouldn’t want to get something with a Confederate flag on it.]