● By Robert Frey
More Than Presents Under Your Tree
By Amanda Jean Elliott
Each holiday season our children easily and quickly fill up wish lists full of toys. It can easily become a time of year that is entirely self-focused. And yet, it can also be the most challenging time of year for families in need. A time when we can teach our children what it means to give back. A time when we can help them connect with those most in need in our community and show them how to make a difference. Show them how in big and small ways we can each make our world a better place.
“One in five children are food insecure. One in six households are food insecure,” says Mary-Kay Rath, the development manager for Second Harvest.
The food bank that works in 23 parishes across Louisiana serves millions of meals each year. Meals to people that may be your neighbor, your child’s classmate or a coworker.
“What food insecure means is that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Rath says. “Right here in Lafayette in the last 12 month we have distributed 8.2 million meals in the area from here to Lake Charles. To narrow that down to just Lafayette Parish … we did 1.9 million. There is a tremendous need.”
And the need will no doubt be greater than ever this year. Each year the holidays can create a particular new level of stress and food insecurity for families and the 2016 holiday season carries with it new stressors.
“The people who come to us are hard working individuals. They might be working a minimum wage job or maybe they are a family who has one spouse that has gone on medical leave and they need food assistance for a period of time. Some are seniors who think they have saved enough for retirement, but find themselves making choices between food and medicine or food and utilities. And honestly this holiday season is going to be tougher for most between the oil and gas lay offs and the recent flood.”
When children are in school they often receive free breakfast and lunch, making dinner the only meal for which they struggle. But, during long school breaks there becomes even more strain to feed children who usually receive free and reduced lunches and meals at schools.
“When those meals are not provided they need assistance to feed their children. Many of those guardians are giving up their food so their children wouldn’t have empty stomachs. This year our holiday season goal is to raise $50,000 across our 23 parishes and 110,000 pounds of food,” Rath says.
The good news? A little bit of effort goes a long way. Children can break open their piggy banks and truly make a difference in the lives of people in Acadiana.
“For every dollar we receive we can provide three meals,” Rath says. While donating all manner of food is welcome, it’s more cost effective to let Second Harvest use money to buy at a better rate.
“Everyone is so very generous during the holiday season and makes a great impact on us. They volunteer and they donate dollars and donate food. We have to prepare for times when the drives are down and it helps us get through that period of time,” Rath says.
Giving back during the holiday season is something many parents want to instill in their children whether it’s donating to people near or far. For moms like Susan Allardyce, who has two children, their family connects giving back in a way that their kids can relate.
“Operation Christmas Child is one of my favorites. Our church participates,” she says. “We create shoeboxes full of toys and practical items for a child somewhere in the world where otherwise they might get nothing. Once the packages ship, my kids can track them to see where they end up.”
Operation Christmas Child is a great option for showing children how they can help out a child their own age across the world. Lauren Guillory’s family adopts a family for Christmas and gives Santa gifts. It’s her way of keeping the focus of the season on more than material things.
“The kids get to pick one thing they really want and then we take a family vacation the day after Christmas,” she says. “My daughter loves it and gets really excited to buy presents. My goal is to teach them it’s about spending time together versus presents.”
In the Broussard home the family looks for a cause close to their heart. This year they are going to shop for kids at a Texas hospital.
“This year, we are shopping for (from a wish list provided) for the children at Cooks Hospital in Ft. Worth. A friend of mine this past year spent many days and nights there with their daughter Avery who has a rare eye cancer,” Broussard explains. “The kids spent many nights praying for Avery and her friends, so when I told them we would be giving back this Christmas to Avery’s hospital and friends — they were excited to!”
Finding ways kids can get involved starts with awareness that the holiday isn’t just about our individual families or getting the biggest best gifts. If you’re feeling more ambitious, your church, office mates or any group can organize a food drive on behalf of Second Harvest and let the kids help.
“When you pull the community together it has a tremendous impact. I don’t think people realize the need in our community,” Rath says.
In addition to donating food there are volunteer opportunities with Second Harvest to organize donations and work in the Lafayette warehouse.
Last holiday season in an effort to give back this gal that loves to pick gifts found organizations to donate funds in the name of family members and friends. For example, donate to an organization that gives kids free instruments in the name of your pal who loves music. Heifer International allows you to donate in someone’s name anything from live-saving supplies for farming to actual animals, which can help people sustain life in rural areas in a model that is very “teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”
Perhaps the most important thing about volunteering this holiday season doesn’t have anything to do with this time of year … it’s about raising awareness within your own home about life after the holidays when many people aren’t feeling so generous and keeping on keeping on in donating and helping those in need in our own communities.