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Emily Henderson

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by Emily Henderson
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Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I hope you are having a lovely day with your loved ones stuffing your faces with Turkey and stuffing. I’m up in Sacramento with my family having a wonderful week and feeling very, very grateful.

This time of year can easily become overwhelming with work, shopping, events, parties, decorating, etc. And while the holidays can feel like such a fun and warm time for many of us, the holidays can be especially difficult for some. There are so many people who are suffering, depressed, in need, neglected, and this year we (my family and company) didn’t do enough to help. I don’t need to explain to you how I should be grateful – you folks see my life. The guilt of my privilege has been at an all time high recently, and then even worse is the guilt of not having my guilt be as strong year round. I fear I’m failing myself, my community, and my kids by not making service a larger part of my every day.

I grew up in a small-ish town, as a member of the LDS (Mormon) church, where service and helping others is an integral part of the culture. My parents took in foster kids, we helped families move or paint their homes on the weekends, and created survival boxes for natural disaster victims or developing countries. It wasn’t about being wealthy and helping those less fortunate (we were a family of 7 living on two teacher salaries). It was wasn’t about assuaging guilt. It was just what you did – you helped people. I remember one time in my 20s when I called my mom from New York on a Saturday night, probably tipsy, asked her what she was doing, and she said, ‘Oh, just sewing quilts for Katrina victims, watching The Commish.’  They are those people. I take no credit for this – I was just a kid and doing what I was told and showing up to help when my parents told me to. But what is remarkable is how normal it became – how much a part of our every day (or week) it was. And it’s become clear that it’s something I’m missing in my adult life.

Of course I’m not suggesting that you need a church or a religion as your motivation to service (or be a good person in general). As I’ve gotten older and able to give more, I’ve tried to carve out a portion of my business/life to help others (the family shelter, Sylvia’s house, Miry’s list) but the last year I’ve just gotten too caught up. I’m ‘too busy.’ It’s like anything in life – you have to prioritize it to make it happen. Ideally you do it enough to the point that it really becomes a part of your life, and a part of your family culture. Donating money to causes and organizations you believe in is important and lovely (and sometimes the best option, as it helps fund those who have training to do work that maybe you don’t or can’t yourself like emergency response teams or doctors), but there are still a lot of opportunities to do physical service in our own cities. I think we have lost a lot of that ‘culture of service’ because our communities are different from how they used to be, especially those of us who live in large cities.

We don’t all attend the same church, school, or live in the same neighborhood so the opportunity for easily organized service projects is greatly diminished. We live in these micro-bubbles within a big city, and Los Feliz (my neighborhood) doesn’t have too much in-need.  And in our modern lives it’s very easy to become super busy, stay local to our tiny bubbles, and keep the overwhelming amount of poverty and gentrification happening in greater Los Angeles out of our daily line of sight. And the longer you go without seeing this, being confronted by it, or being directly affected by it, the less permeable your bubble becomes and the more you forget that it is a daily reality for so many that also live in your city, maybe just a few miles away. It should be a responsibility of the privileged to help those in need, not an option. We don’t just get to live in our bubble without stepping outside, seeing where there is need, and then sacrificing time and resources to help. And it’s especially important to be teaching this lessons to our kids. It’s not their fault that they aren’t being raised by service-oriented people like my parents (who are literally on a mission in Samoa right now, working with teachers on developing effective teaching methods). But as someone who believes that the best way to parent is to model good behavior, it’s our job to teach them service year-round and we shouldn’t need to rely on an organization (or a holiday season) to do that. We need to show them what it means to be a good citizen/neighbor/ally/person, right now. They aren’t going to pick it up from TV, read it in a book, or learn about it from their friends. You can’t tell kids how to be a good person, and no, it can’t be just once a year. You have to show what it means to be good, early, and most importantly, often. I’m talking to myself, here.

So we are brainstorming what we can do this season and carry into the year both as a family and as company, and I’d love both your help and input. I have some ideas for the year regarding service projects (still organizing, but stay tuned). But what do you do during the holidays with your kids to help others and teach them the principals of service? Our kids are obviously very young so their abilities are limited and their capacity of understanding the situation is not great. I also don’t want to do something they aren’t ready for just to make myself feel like a good parent. For instance last year we had Charlie ‘save’ money in a piggy bank from coins he found around the house, of which he barely did and I mostly just shoved my change in there. Then we went to the store to buy Sylvia, our nanny whom we love, a gift from ‘him’ and it really didn’t play out like I had fantasized. He wasn’t even 3 yet. We entered and he b-lined for the toys. I kept saying over and over ‘honey, what do you think Sylvia would really like?’ and over and over he insisted either a Spiderman or a firetruck. A tantrum almost ensued and I must have sounded like the most cloying, self-righteous parent ever. Then when I forced him to settle on a necklace that he had no connection to whatsoever, we went to the counter to pay with ‘his’ piggy bank. He lost all interest, ran back to the Spiderman and I just looked like the A-hole parent, shaking a piggy bank, trying too hard to teach a kid too young to think about others. He wasn’t ready and the whole thing was far more about me needing to feel like a good parent, than him learning the lesson of sacrifice and consideration. Parenting-fail. But lessons were learned.

We have some ideas of what we can do with the kids mostly about donating toys and helping bake, but I’d love to hear from more experienced parents or anyone, really, what we can do as a tradition to teach our young kids the importance of service.

What do you do?

Meanwhile for those of you in LA who are interested, the EHD crew and my family/friends are going to decorate the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission Family Shelter for the holidays on Sunday, December 3rd, and anybody is welcome to come help. It’s truly an amazing organization that helps families rehabilitate from being homeless and gets them back on their feet. They teach parenting and personal finance skills, help parents get jobs, learn how to cook healthy, budget friendly meals, etc. It’s an incredibly important facility doing necessary work, that doesn’t get nearly enough attention or funding. Right now there are 36 kids and 10 parents living there. When we celebrated the opening of the shelter a few years ago Charlie came, barely a year old. He was a bit too young to understand what was going on, but I think he’s old enough to understand now – we’ve talked a bit about it and he seems to understand that some kids don’t have their own home, which upsets him. Teaching our kids about their privilege (and reminding us) in an environment that is both safe for them, and inclusive to everyone is important for them (and us). Service goes both ways, and while it should be primarily to help those in need with out need of reciprocation, it also helps us to tap into and cultivate that part of our humanity that easily gets shoved and covered while living in a busy, affluent, LA bubble. Service shouldn’t just be to check off that mental box, but to open it and have it be a part of our lives and culture, year-round. In case this feels like a lecture, again, I’m talking to myself here.

So I’d love to invite anyone to come help us on December 3rd from 10 am – 4pm (ish…if we have a lot of help it could be less and if we don’t have enough it might take longer). We’ll get tacos or thai food (my FAVORITE thai food joint is nearby), listen to holiday music, and trim out that lovely space with some of the best social workers I’ve ever met and some lovely families on the mend. Bring anyone – kids, friends, all are welcome.

Email us at hello@emilyhendersondesign.com if you are interested, need more information, or simply want to tell us how many you are bringing (so we have enough food!). Target is giving a $1000 gift card (Thank you!) but if you have leftover ornaments or holiday decor, or want to contribute anything let us know. Our goal is to make it dripping with kid-friendly joy and have it be something they/we can easily replicate year after year.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks, from The Hendersons. We are so grateful for the online community you’ve let us create and been apart of, and for letting me turn a hobby into my dream job. I truly hope to spread more joy this season and this year. We are excited to hear about some good kid-oriented (or any really) charitable holiday traditions. Please leave them in the comments…testtest

  1. Emily I think this is a great idea. My vote: CASA program. The LA foster system has a program where they pair a lonely foster kid with a volunteer adult called a CASA (court appointed advocate). It is kind of like big brothers big sisters but more intense– the CASA helps like a parent would, by advocating for them if they are struggling in school, attending education meetings, taking them on outings, etc. Sometimes kids in the foster system will be known by no one, abandoned by parents or orphaned. They literally have no one to call on holidays. (Can you imagine?) This CASA program allows them to connect with someone who voluntarily cares for them. Sometimes a kid will stay connected with their CASA long into adulthood. I have no doubt it has saved many from joining the sex trade and gangs.

    If you’re interested, you can help with time or finances. Other areas outside of LA also use the CASA system.


    1. I’ve never heard of this and its such a great idea. Brian and I had a big conversation about fostering the other night (thus the impetus for this post) and we really think we will in a few years once the kids are in school. For now this is a GREAT idea. thank you. xx

      1. For the holidays, it’s great to donate to a local group which helps kids who are aging out of the foster care system. They’re all on their own.

      2. Even if your current schedule doesn’t allow for you to commit to advocating for a child right now, you can become a “Friend of CASA”, serving on a committee and volunteering your time in a way that suits your talents, such as planning events, raising awareness, etc. 🙂 CASA is such a great organization!

      3. Emily – Your local PBS station, PBS SoCal, has a social impact initiative dedicated to rallying support around the 55,000 foster youth in Greater Los Angeles. If you’d like to “meet” the CEO of CASA Los Angeles, here’s a quick video: https://tofosterchange.org/meet/community-stories/wende-nichols-julien-every-child-needs-an-advocate/

        Full disclosure: I work for this station and am awed by their dedication to all children!

        1. Jillian I’d love to work with them. @sara and @patricia thanks so much for chiming in. I’m going to look them up right now. thank you 🙂

    2. This is a great idea. I am so glad you posted this. I have signed up for an information meeting here in Long Beach. It seems they are in dire need of volunteers.

  2. At 61, and retired, I spent a lot of time thinking about this. I wanted to stay close by, and address issues I care about personally. So I volunteer to teach reading/English literacy in a nearby school whose attendees are almost all immigrants. Used to be Latino primarily. With the current policies, we see Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and East Asians. But all are under-resourced, and all are children.

    One thing people with small children could consider is the elderly, particularly those with dementia. My mother has Alzheimer’s, but she has resources to be cared for in a wonderful place, and family nearby to visit frequently. Other elderly are not so fortunate, and, the women in particular, love small children. Often the care homes will have a little garden, or there is a park nearby. You might be able to keep someone company, light up an hour, and still care for your little ones.

    1. Such a great idea. There is one in our old neighborhood very nearby … thank you. xx

  3. While your children are still young, the year my son and daughter stopped ‘believing’, we decided to Santa others. They would decide on what they wanted to do in place of their Santa gifts. They bought items for a teenage homeless shelter one year, supplied our local no kill animal shelter another. They also have chosen a boy and a girl their ages in need and picked out clothes and toys for them. While they still received gifts that fit in their stockings, they understood they were blessed so much more than others and enjoyed thinking about what they could do for others at the holidays. We continued this tradition until they were adults. Whatever you decide, it will be welcome in this world❤️

    1. Love this idea! Thank you so much for sharing!

    2. that’s amazing. So they really didn’t need big gifts anymore? Thats pretty incredible. We are still in the throes of santa-loving but i love this idea for after that magic ends (tear).

  4. Our now five-year-old has for a couple of years really liked the idea of buying holiday presents for children who aren’t as lucky as we are. I pick out a few duplicates of toys we already have (so he won’t want to hoard them for himself!), and we donate them at Christmastime.

    He also gets a tiny “allowance,” mostly so that we can practice dividing the money among three jars: money to save, money to spend, and money to share. Periodically we donate the “share” jar to a cause he chooses (from options we give him): so far, sick children (St. Jude’s), elephants (the Wildlife Conservation Society), and cats and dogs (the SPCA).

    1. lovely. I love the three jars. xx

  5. Such a thoughtful post- will be checking back in the comments for others’ ideas. I’ve sponsored a child through Save the Children for several years and often feel bad for not writing her more often. This year I realized I could have my almost 4 year old dictate a short note. (We had just gotten a letter and picture from her). I think he understood the basics of it and we put her picture up on the bulletin board after. The other thing I do is volunteer to take care of a flower bed in our downtown park and my son will sometimes come along with his shovel and clippers to help.

  6. My kids always buy a gift for kid who wolf not recurve one otherwise, that is their same age and gender.
    It forced them to give something that they would want to receive. Actually Jamba Juice has tags you can pick up. My kids like to imagine that child and we decide how best to put a smile on their heart.

    Halloween just past, but our “candy witch” collects as much of their candy and they will give to kids who didn’t get candy. They leave it out in the porch. She comes at night and rewards them for their generosity, usually with books.

    We also work a shift in the food bank each year and they always have age appropriate tasks for them.

    Just a couple ideas.

    1. I love candy witch. We did a very similar thing, only called it a fairy and we didn’t have a purpose for where it was going, so thats a much better program. xx

  7. Something simple that little ones can do is draw pictures to be distributed with Meals on Wheels deliveries. Our local Meals on Wheels gratefully accepted toddler and preschooler cards. My kids were proud of their work, it was good handwriting practice for my older. We hope they brought some cheer to home-bound folks’ days.

  8. Emily,
    Thank you for the great post. It is always important for us to look back on what we give to our world. As a social worker I often feel I fail when it comes to doing for others that is not paid work.

    Made me think.


    1. Robin, I think you have a pass. I instagram photos of living room and myself for a living. If i’m not self-reflexive enough to know that is messed up then I will eventually self combust. You dedicate your lives to others. I consider teachers also in this category – the people who choose to help others every day, even if you are getting paid. xx

  9. Beautiful words, I feel inspired to do more as well. We could all use some more love and spread love in this world. I have two children ages 3 and 1. We do not have any traditions yet, but I would love to hear some ideas on how to show my children to look outside of themselves. Thank you!

  10. Our church does a lot through Samaritans purse and world vision. They do Operation Christmas child where you can put together shoeboxes full of goodies for kids in third world countries. Fun for kids to get into and participate. They also have catalogs where you can buy animals, clean water, and other survival necessities for families.

    Locally (in the sf bay area) we have gone to give out bags of supplies to the homeless (with my 4 year old) and may also be helping serve at a Christmas party for an underprivileged community.

    My husband also was able to help with some cleanup outside of Houston last month. It made for some great conversations with our daughter since she can understand a little but more.

    1. Amazing. So much good. Thanks for sharing. xx

  11. I love this post! Here is an idea for keeping the concept of service in the forefront of little minds: give them counting beads to count ways they give throughout the day. Make a little string of ten beads that slide from one side to the other and every time they share a toy, help the family, be kind to a stranger, etc they slide a bead over. They get to decide what earns a bead and they get creative!

    If you want a visual of what the beads look like here is a link from a religious website, but anyone can do it! https://thelittleways.com/how-to-make-sacrifice-beads

    1. love. I love that they get to decide what a good deed is – helping their analytical skills while also doing good.. Win /win.

  12. Love this post Emily 💕. And totally agree, about all of it, importance of service and lack of time 😬. And modelling to our children. My children are now older, but they are actually pretty good , so am hoping we did something right. We have done a few things over the years. They get pocket money $1 per year ( their age) per week ( for generally helping around the house – they do heaps) and they decide how to split it into spending, saving and giving ( always have, ever since Charlie and Birdie’s age. They then decide how to use their giving money- they always find something. Each Christmas we choose a family to do a secret hamper for, a family in need and go shopping for it, food and presents, usually a huge box, then deliver it in secret. The kids love this, we don’t tell the family who it’s from. We organise working bees for friends if they have had a problem ( death, sick family member etc) and get all the kids to help, no matter how small, actually really fun, with a pot luck meal at the end. And now that they are older they are doing Duke of Edinburgh ( not sure if they have it in the US, but there must be something similar?) , which has a formal service component- and they are now talking themselves about how good it feels to help others and how much they enjoy it ( they are 14 and 16.. often as a parent feel like I haven’t done a great job, ( thou I am very proud of my kids! ❤️) but on this one thing, the things we have done do seem to have planted a seed of service ( like your parents) so just hoping it lasts! Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for all you do for your online community!!

    1. Wow. that all sounds amazing. Ok so 2 and 4 is old enough to do the money splitting? You sound like a VERY good mom. If they can recognize how they feel after helping others and want to do more, then MY GOODNESS that is amazing. xx

  13. I’m in the UK. I give blood on Christmas Eve (and other times!) and take my son with me. It shows him about giving at a time where young children focus so much on getting.

    1. I love this idea! Totally adding that to the list.

  14. Same! Yes yes, me too … was all I said to myself as I read this. I can’t wait to see what other ideas everyone has and to see what you have planned for the New Year but here’s what I have going on in our family: With all of the recent natural disasters, we started watching Spanish-language TV news so we could see the devastation and narrate and control the message we wanted to deliver to our three year old. Like “they don’t have a bed to sleep in tonight” or “look at that man who is helping!” Then we asked him if he could help and brainstormed things those kids or families might need, collected toys and things, put them in a bag and delivered them to a charity. That worked really well because we kept talking about it for days and collected stuff more than once. Now with the holidays, we are participating in Baby2Baby’s family program and buying clothes and toys for a little boy my son’s age. We’ll shop together and then deliver the wrapped items together. I’m so excited! I hope we can find ways to do this year round. In our advent calendar this year, I am saving days that will be for giving back and doing more of the above. Hopefully he’ll learn that the season is just as much about giving as it is receiving. The biggest thing I did this year was start selling my artwork — an idea I’ve had for years but it sorta just didn’t make sense to me. And then I had the idea that I could make it a Giving Back company and tie my profits to donations to all of the causes I love. And let me tell you, that feels amazing and has given me so much fuel and passion because it’s no longer just about me. I try to involve my son in that, too, so when I’m printing a photo of water, for instance, I can talk about how water is a natural resource or not everyone has access to water. I can’t wait to see the ideas you have! Thanks so much for a lovely post.

    1. I’ve heard so much about baby 2 baby but I didn’t know about their family plan. Charlie is definitely old enough to understand that, Birdie would be, too. And GOOD FOR YOU about tying giving back into your business. So amazing. xx

  15. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Emily. One thing I do is volunteer with hospice. For an hour each week, I visit my assigned hospice patient at her care home. Sometimes we just sit side by side reading, sometimes we play “catch the ball” with the other residents, sometimes I show her pictures of my cat which makes her smile. The whole point is simply to be a friendly visitor for someone in the final chapter of their life. Another thing that can help people become more aware of volunteer opportunities is to follow the facebook pages of your local shelters or volunteer organizations. They will post what they are in need of year round, whether it’s time, donations or whatever else–and you’ll be reminded of it in your news feed. Easy. 🙂

    1. Popping in to mention that volunteermatch.org is a similar idea. You create an account and search for volunteer needs in your local community: the neighborhood YMCA needs volunteers for a holiday bazaar or a local sports organization needs someone to man a sign-in table for a few hours. It’s a great way to fill a need, especially if you can’t commit to something at a scheduled time each week.

      Thanks for your work with hospice, Courtney. We had fantastic experiences with my grandmother in hospice and I so admire those who volunteer there.xo

  16. I love your heart and your blog, Emily!! I look forward to hearing the other ideas as well! We have 4 young children and deliver meals several times a year. We typically do a route that lasts less than 2 hours and has 8-10 stops. Often we get a small interaction with the person we are delivering to. We live in Atlanta and do it through a local organization (Open Hand – awesome organization). I imagine LA has meals on wheels or another meal delivery for elderly, sick or low-income. This is a good fit for us right now because all 6 of us can do it together.

  17. I love making and buying things for this- https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/pack-a-shoe-box/
    I think it would be a great idea with kids to pack shoe boxes!

    1. We’ve done that for years and the kids love it!

    2. DONE. Someone else mentioned and I didn’t know if it was from their church but good to know that anyone can do it. They will absolutely understand this. THANK YOU.

  18. For one of my kids thus was scary, but otherwise a sucess.

    But a lot of flowers and dollar store vases. Make arrangements and plans to deliver them to an old folks home.

    We did it monthly for awhile.

  19. Thanks for a great post, Emily! If we have time and leisure to read your blog, we’re fortunate, and I’m glad you took the time to remind us of the importance of giving out of our abundance.
    My oldest is 20 now, but we’ve done a lot of things since my three were little: we’ve supported several children through Compassion International; we’ve each chosen animals to give to families in third world countries from Heifer; we’ve given people micro loans through World Vision and watched their progress and their businesses grow; we’ve bought lots of gifts for kids through Samaritan’s Purse and Angel Tree. But I think trying to give as a daily part of life is most effective: mowing single moms’ yards, giving a giftcard to a hardworking fast food worker, handing useful gifts to panhandlers with smile, befriending people who are trying hard but have very little. We fail to help so often, but we hope the times we do help make an impact on both the people in our community and on our children.

    1. We sponsor a child through Compassion International as well and at Christmas we have each child pick something from the catalog (chickens,water filter,bike,vaccines, etc.) and spend some of their own money to help purchase it.

    2. I love many of these ideas but one that stuck out was giving useful gifts to panhandlers. Maybe its something we can stock in our cars ready to give? And i know my kids are young but i’m desperate to go paint a house. Anyone in LA need a house painted??? I remember this so well from when I was little, helping or surprising people with a freshly painted house because man does that really make you feel better about coming home every day. xx

      1. We make homeless packages using advice from my uncle who is a career policeman: granola bars, water, clean socks are needed most. I keep everything in Ziploc bags in my trunk and put one in the backseat so I can easily grab it when need-be.

  20. Grateful for your heartfelt message 🙂

  21. We collect hotel toiletries from our travels and shop to fill “homeless bags”. We fill gallon size ziploc bags with basic toiletries (shampoo, soap, toothbrush, tooth paste and lotion), granola bars, bottles of water, mints, chapstick. We do this quarterly with our 5 and 8 year old and keep them in our car so we are ready when we have the chance to give them out at a stoplight.

    1. I was just asking about this above!!! Having something stocked ready to give. THis is a FANTASTIC idea. THANK YOU. xx

    2. We do the same thing! Hotel toiletries is a great idea, though. Compact and economical. Going to do this next time we travel!

  22. Your post is so good and especially touching for us. It was humbling and sweet. We loved reading your thoughts and so appreciate your wonderful attitude about serving and giving. Serving others brings great joy. I believe that’s why being a parent is so rewarding. We spend 24/7 in the service of these little people that we are charged in raising. Happiness in Life and love rotate around helping others and loosing ourselves.

    1. Thanks, mom. I love you 🙂 You guys did a pretty darn amazing job at it (and obviously continue to). xx

  23. If you think it will not cause a meltdown, a really great thing to do with your kids is clean up for Santa. Have them pick out toys they are tired of playing with and take them to donate them at a local shelter. Seeing the way their old toys can make another kid so happy is always a great lesson on being thankful/blessed. It also helps you make room for the new things that will be under the tree this year!

    1. what if the kids in the shelter got the new toys?

    2. Could also do this with clothes since our kids are always growing out of theirs and and it’s something other kids need year round.

      1. We tried with clothes and it was more successful. It KINDA worked with toys but Charlie was only willing to give a couple very boring toys. I think another 6 months and we’ll be there 🙂

  24. Oh my gosh—Children’s Hunger Fund. It’s only about 25 minutes away from you, and kids of all ages can volunteer. Packing food & even toys for those in need all over the world makes a difference. Check out Childrenshungerfund.org for more details.

    1. Will do right now. I LOVE that its local. this is exactly what I was hoping to get from this – so many REALLY good suggestions. THANK YOU. xx

  25. Emily, I left a comment on Instagram, but I thought I’d leave more information here. We live in northwest Washington, and my husband and I have been working with the Family Resource Center at our local schools. They are an AMAZING team who reaches out to the families of all non-English speaking students and helps to make sure their basic needs are met, including beds (and bedding), a sofa and a kitchen table–the things that make a house a home. We own a furniture store and our delivery teams spends one afternoon each week helping to delivery and assemble furniture for these families (not furniture purchased at the store, but furniture that has been purchased elsewhere or donated). We’re also collecting blankets and bedding to make sure every child is warm this winter. Many of these families fled violence in their home countries and have never slept on sheets. Our little boy is almost two, so he’s a little young to help. But as he gets older, we plan to have him help us in this project (collecting items for families, visiting homes and any other service that feels age-appropriate). Since you are in the design/furniture business yourself, you might have similar resources to share with an organization in your area/schools. Thank you for sharing your heart here! I love following along with your journey.

    1. that sounds perfect .We’ve been donating to Miry’s list and can continue to but this sounds really amazing, too. I’d imagine there is something local here … xx

  26. Lovely and important post. Thank you. Check out https://www.justserve.org for local service opportunities. It is organized by the Mormon Church, but is for everyone. 🙂

    1. Ditto for just serve. It’s a great resource for a variety of local service needs that range from simple to more time intensive. One of my favorites in our area is making birthday boxes for local kids in foster care.

      1. Ha. Will do. Brady (who works for me and was also raised mormon suggested talking to the church). I’m happy to because I know first hand that they know how to serve others. But I didn’t know about the organization so thank you very much. xx

  27. I am a nurse at Children’s Hospital LA. Which is right in your area. There is lots to do for the patients and families that are there. Also with the Ronald McDonald house right behind. I am sure you could find some awesome things to do. Even partnering with target or someone to design or change some things at this Ronald McDonald House would be awesome!

    1. Great Idea. I’m pretty sure i have a friend who works at your hospital. Will ask around … xx

  28. I will speak for myself and our family. We have one child. A son. He is 21 now but when he was little (before he started Kindergarten) he learned about helping others from watching his us. Just simple things like helping a neighbor who was ill or adopting a family for Christmas and so on. We give money to homeless people who ask. Some people don’t as they are afraid it will be spent on drugs or alcohol but we give regardless of what they spend it on. One time we were behind a woman and her child at the grocery store and she didn’t have enough to pay for her items. I asked if I could pick up the balance. Our son was with me and we talked about it after we got to our car. Then when he started school there were lots of projects to get involved in. Also, he joined Cub Scouts and ended up getting his Eagle Scout designation. He learned so much from Scouts and made lifelong friends. My husband got involved and took on various positions in their pack which was a great bonding experience for them both. They did tons of service projects, such as baking cookies and delivering to nursing homes and singing Christmas carols at hospitals, making and serving dinner at homeless shelters, clean up projects at parks and along roadways just to name a few. Scouting may not be fore everyone but it was a great experience for our son.

    1. Yes! I love this! It doesn’t have to necessarily be an organized activity. If we pay attention, life gives us opportunities every day to respond to people in need. Most of the time we are too busy to see it!

      1. Yes! Beyond formal volunteer positions and donations once per year, there are many small ways to model empathy and compassion everyday. Holding the door for people behind you, shoveling a neighbor’s walk, stopping to help someone who looks lost, thanking and being truly kind and considerate with store clerks, customer service operators, bus drivers… I think these smallest actions are crucial to service truly becoming integrated into family life.

        1. Love this reminder. Its nice to be nice. That’s what we say here 🙂 xx

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  30. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family Emily! 🙂

    Have a nice day.


  31. I too am scratching my head for ways that my family can serve (my kids are 4 and 2). My church, for that matter, also seems to be struggling to find ways to serve the community – we had a lot of success with doing meals for kids during the summer (when the discounted school lunch for families in need program in our community is on hiatus), but that only really worked for people who could serve during business hours, which wasn’t the bulk of us. And now, in winter, we do food drives, but that’s just one thing. My 4-year-old is pretty good about giving gifts to his friends for their birthdays (and not being jealous that they’re getting a gift and he’s not), but I’m not sure what I should be during to further foster the spirit of generosity and service in my kids. I feel like if I just make acts of community service part of my life, they’ll soak it up, but there don’t seem to be a lot of options in the places I’ve looked for people to actually bring their kids with them. Also, I did not grow up in a family that did acts of community service or gave generously, so it’s not coming naturally to me – I feel like I’m not creative enough to think up some ways to help, and I’m always needlessly doubting my ability to actually help strangers. I’m pretty good about helping out friends (helping them with projects or giving them gifts), but helping strangers more frequently is an area I should improve upon.

  32. Emily, I literally just had a groggy early morning conversation about this with my boyfriend. I’m a social worker and my career has been focused on helping the homeless, and it’s critically important to me that when I become a parent someday, I plant those seeds of compassion in my kids. I see parents all the time who have kids and go from being empathic, service-oriented people to having a singular focus on protecting their kids and giving them a comfortable life. Not being a parent yet I obviously have limited perspective on this, but I just desperately hope that I will not let fear or whatever pressing cultural norms are affecting parents these days keep me from exposing my kids to hurting people in this world. I’m not saying to send your kids off to play on skid row by themselves, but I think the way that you interact with homeless people will plant seeds of empathy and compassion in your kids. Greeting homeless people on the street, smiling at them, asking them how they’re doing, keeping protein bars or water bottles in your car to hand out–just treating them as human beings who are hurting rather than a scourge on our society–all of this teaches your kids how to interact with the world. I absolutely love that this is so important to you and honestly wish that this was the desire of more parents. And sure, you can do better, so can I.. we all can. One thing I would say is, try to find ways to give that do not revolve around blog content. I 100% get that this is your job, and it doesn’t make what you’re doing any less meaningful when you post it on here, but I think it does something different inside of you when you help another person and tell nobody about it. It somehow shifts your molecules when you’re the only one who knows that you did the good thing. Not that your kids read your blog, but I think as much as possible it’s good to set an example of giving just because it’s right and not justifying it based on whether people deserve it, or whether it benefits your work, or whether its tax-deductible, etc.
    Anyway, you are wonderful for caring about a culture of service and making that a priority in your family. I hope this inspires others to do the same! As a hopeful-future-someday parent, I salute you.

    1. That came off maybe a little chastising to parents for caring about the safety and comfort of their kids. Didn’t mean it that way! Obviously I’m passionate about homelessness 😬 and can get a little fired up when talking about this issue.

      1. Not chastising at all. And yes re blog content. When its a huge makeover in need of tens of thousands of free product like the shelter, then i blog about it in order to get the product, and there may be a few ideas this year that involve readers, but I totally get you and feel the same way. Its tricky because I want to use my platform to spread awareness and inspire others to also think about what they could do in their community, without it feeling like ‘oh great, she’s getting good blog content out of this’. It’s a fine line. When it involves my kids there will likely be no blog content, but if its more of a community service thing with my company (like the massive rummage sale we have planned that i’m inviting readers to donate and vollunteer at) then you will hear about it a bit. Does that make sense?

  33. I just listened to the audiobook Barking to the Choir by Father Greg Boyle. He is a funny and warm antidote to the white wealthy “do something” impulse. I’m in the midst of a master’s in divinity program, and he is the best thing I’ve read so far (and it wasn’t for school). I cannot recommend this enough. I’ll also say that you and your family are certainly not alone. Many of us are rejecting (and some of us working to reimagine) religion’s role in our lives. It’s actually an exciting time in many ways. Peace!

  34. When my twins were young, at Christmastime, we used to pick two kids ( twins=double everything lol) from the salvation army tree and buy everything on their lists. My two did ALL the shopping/picking out/wrapping; I think they were seven the year it all clicked, even though we started that tradition at age five.
    We had to confront the whole issue that year becasue my darling daughter asked me, out of the blue on a car ride home from school, why poor children were “bad.”
    I freaked out a bit and asked her where on earth she had gotten that information-to which she relied, “Well, Santa only brings presents to GOOD kids, right? If poor kids don’t get any presents then they must be bad a lot.”
    First, I thought, “Great. She’ll be a wonderful lawyer/engineer/logical geek when she grows up. But…OMG this thinking has to be stopped ASAP!”

    (Mind you, we are driving home from kindergarten when this convo took place)

    Then, in my best parenting moment ever, I explained that while yes, Santa’s elves MADE the toys, and Santa DELIVERED the toys, someone had to PAY for all those materials, and sometimes parents didn’t have enough money to pay for all the stuff their kids might want. That made sense to both of them, and we decided then and there that we’d always do something to help out another family at the holidays, at least ( even though hubs and I had done before they were even born, they weren’t really aware).

    We would also do a monthly donation to the local food bank-take the kids shopping, buy quality stuff to donate, and have them help drop it off. They won’t get the “give up MY money?” part for a while, so don’t sweat that right now.

    When I moved to San Diego a few years ago I found an organization to volunteer with called JIT- Just in Time for Foster Youth. https://jitfosteryouth.org/ ( Don’t watch their videos without tissues nearby. Trust me.)

    What they do is help young adults who are ageing out of the foster system who haven’t been adopted. Imagine being 18 and having NO family to help you navigate…life?! ( lots of people drop these kids when they no longer get a check from the state for their care. Real nice eh?)

    They have classes that explain finances, applying for college, how NOT to become homeless while looking for a job, etc. It’s an awesome place, and the always do a “My first home for the holidays” drive for things like dishes/towels/etc.

    Maybe your friends at Tarjay can hook them up with some cool swag? 🙂

    Basically no matter where you put your energies, it will help. Your kids will learn by doing, so have them do something small, but on a regular basis, so it becomes an intrinsic thing over time. My twins are now adults, and they continue to do what they were taught all those years ago . J

    Just like you -your parents did well 🙂

    1. I think that LA must have a program like JIT, too, because yes, that is indeed very tragic. I love your daughters story. I can’t believe I haven’t heard that argument/thought before. Smart little one 🙂 xx

  35. You write about this thoughtfully and with such vulnerability. Sometimes when fashion/shelter/beauty/lifestyle bloggers address this, the vibe is a little trite. Thank you. I’m eager to see what people suggest in the comments. Love you and your team. XOXO

  36. We are fortunate enough to live within walking distance of school and our local park. We pick up trash along the side of the road when we are on our way out. I’m hoping that this will develop that “its just what you are supposed to do” mentality in my kids.

    Our kids school also has a high portion of free and reduced lunch students. So when the PTA does a fundraiser that is kid centered (like if the kids bring in $1 they can wear a hat that day) we send in extra and tell them the can cover for someone who didn’t have it (for whatever reason). Sometimes its a kid who usually would have it but the lead parent is on a business trip, but often its a kid who is never going to have it.

    A few years ago we ate at Olive Garden on Christmas eve. A stranger paid for our meal. We are well off, but I think being the beneficiaries of generosity in that way made it seem for ALL of us that giving isn’t about US helping THEM, but that we are all in this together and you never know whose day you can brighten.

  37. I’m glad to read these comments and think about this some more. I have two little girls, ages 1 and 4, and it bothers me that in this season of life I haven’t found more ways to be generous to the people and community around me. I want to serve others but find myself short on resources or freedom (health issues, working around nap times and meal times, having the kids with me 24/7.) Like some other commenters I didn’t grow up in an atmosphere of service and as an adult it’s been tough to make my own (faith based) convictions spill over into more than occasional actions now that these little ones are here soaking up everything I have. We do a few seasonal things and provide ongoing support to a third world child through Compassion but I want to make generosity and service a habit in our day to day relationships. Honestly my husband is much better at that than I am! My older girl is just beginning to understand about some families having less than we do, or going through a hard time, and our ability to help. I think as they get older there will be more natural discussion about what we do and why, and also perhaps more possibility to go do things.

    1. I think the self awareness to say that we KNOW we can be doing more and you wrote a big paragraph about it on a blog shows that we will do more. xx

  38. For this year http://instagram.com/peoplehelpingpr would be a great place to start. People Helping Puerto Rico is holding an auction for Wings of Hope 12/2-12/3 to raise money to help provide roofs to the many people in Puerto Rico whose homes are still in shambles from the hurricane. Forget elaborate gift guides for Christmas, the people in Puerto Rico just want clean water, light, and roofs on their homes! Please spread the word!

    1. YES. love this. thank you. xx

  39. This is so close to my heart! We live in a priveleged community and we have worked really hard to raise our two kids (17 and 21) to be givers and to be empathetic. Here are a few things we done, big and small, to help “grow” the helping spirit and sense of appreciation in our children.

    Have them hand the tip and personally to the waiter or waitress and then thank them for the wonderful service. This really helps kids see servers as people and not just servants.

    Prior to birthdays and holidays have the kids clean out their outgrown toys to donate to a shelter. If you can bring the kids to deliver them. It’s even great to do this on a regular basis – it certainly keeps the clutter down.

    Take your kids with you when you visit a shelter – they can play with the kids who live there and see that rich or poor, we are all just people. The more we help kids see the other sides of life, the more they learn to think of things from perspectives other than their own.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Love all of these ideas. THANK YOU. And as a former waitress THANK YOU. xx: 🙂

  40. Very good brief and this post helped me a lot. Say thank you I searching for your facts. Continuous it..

  41. When I feel board. Then I come on your blog and read some post which u have post recently..

  42. thank you for all the light and charm you’ve brought to my life. i’m grateful. happy thanksgiving to you and yours and your excellent ‘rents. how would you decorate charlie’s and eliot’s bedroom trees for christmas in samoa? i bet it would be something like my blue bayou tree: mini ornament birds on clips, glittered tree frogs, scallop shells, white feathers, some green leaves, a sarong tree skirt, and a gauguin angel on top?

  43. What a wonderful post. I live in San Francisco and our local newspaper highlights a “Season of Sharing” fund and its recipients. Maybe there is something local to you and you could read about it to your kids? I like to give and do service locally so finding people in my community to help is key. When I was a child we would do a Christmas hamper through church for a family in need. Now the Big Brothers / Big Sisters has a similar program. I have also picked kids from the local Boys and Girls Club. They give you a little ornament with a picture and the child’s age/gender so you could take your kids shopping and they have a visual of the child while they’re picking out the present. I love the idea above of birthday boxes for foster kids. Definitely going to look into that as a year round opportunity. Happy Thanksgiving Emily and the EHD team, you are reminding me of everything I have to be thankful for.

    1. OH thats great! Big brothers/sisters does that? Looking into that now. I need to calm down – i have hampers, shoe boxes and this to do, then just Serve.com, CASA and the 25 minute away shelter to help. I am VERY excited, probably over zealous, but I don’t care. We’ll get done what we can and i love that so many of these are manageable and I really think we can accomplish them (I’m always sensitive to signing up for something then disappointing them by being too busy)

  44. One of the things that I did with my church growing up tgatvreally touched me & had a great impact was visiting a convalescent home. We’re going to try it this year with some other friends with kids as we sing some Christmas carols dressed up in some red & green. 😉 Then we’ll have some time to walk around & chat with some of the patients. I’d love to do this more than 1x/year so that we can get to know them. ❤
    Another beautiful thing that we just got to do was visit an orphanage down in Mexico. The kids were precious & it was so inspiring to meet the staff that constantly gives to these kids who have been through a lot thus far in their lives. Our kids are pretty young as well, & so we’ve barely started doing any of this as well, but so far it’s been so healing for all of us & I think for those we get to love on as well.

  45. A pint size service project – making homemade cards and dropping them off with cookies or coffee at the local fire station.

    1. Oh our kids would LOVE to do this. Great idea.

  46. When my daughters were school age they picked a charity on their birthdays and requested their party gifts go to the charity. As animal lovers this usually meant gifts for a local animal shelter. They enjoyed unwrapping their gifts and they enjoyed bringing the gifts to the shelter even more.

  47. @beaconhomegoods in Temecula would love to help! Let us know what we can do 🙂 I just watched your instastory and am always looking to uplift and help❤️

  48. I know you don’t really associate with the LDS church anymore, but there’s the annual Christmas #LightTheWorld advent calendar that has 25 service ideas which are really really good. The full calendar is on the Mormon.org homepage 🙂

    1. I recently came across the idea of a “reverse” Advent calendar. Instead of your children receiving a gift or candy each day, they give something. Collect items (canned goods, toiletries, toys etc.) and then donate to a worthy organization.

      1. LOVE both of these ideas and I can certainly check out the Mormon page. Yes to reverse advent calendars. Genius.

  49. Will be joining you along with some friends (3)

  50. Will be joining you along with some friends (3) see ya there!

  51. This post is really astounding one! I was delighted to read this, very much useful. Many thanks


  52. Love, love, love this. More bloggers should follow suit!

  53. Have you ever heard of the this essay about what a wife started to give her husband (who hated Christmas) every year? http://www.giving101.org/white-envelope-project/

    It inspired the founding of a now-defunct nonprofit that had the aim of educating children about philanthropy and service. I always thought of doing it as a way to honor my late father every year, but I think it’s also a great way to talk to kids about all the different ways you can help your neighbors, about the opportunity to give (and what that means)

    When they get older, service groups for kids like EarlyAct are also amazing!

  54. We try to serve hot chocolate on Christmas Eve at a nearby church that hosts a Christmas Eve meal. It is cold when everyone is waiting in line (outside) to go in, so we bring as much hot chocolate as we can.

  55. I wrote a lengthy response of ideas a few days ago, and it isn’t up here. I don’t know why it’s not showing up! I’ll try again with just one of them. I have 3 kids under 6, and one thing we’ve done is connect with a local Syrian refugee family and regularly helped them with transportation, running errands, and just doing fun things together. Because of the language barrier it can be a bit tricky, but that’s also why they need help. A HUGE practical service you could do is go to the grocery store with them once a month to help them identify the WIC items they are entitled to. Since my Syrian friend couldn’t read English, she had no idea which groceries to get. We all went together and my kids helps find all the items on the list.

  56. Emily!

    Speaking of service…today is Giving Tuesday! It’s a crucial day for many, many nonprofit organizations!

    In the midst of this ridiculous consumer-based spending season, highlighting Giving Tuesday and making it part of folks annual habits is an awesome way to refocus this season! Also a chance to make a donation to an organization as a holiday gift for someone else!

    I work for an awesome California based organization that loves to promote Giving Tuesday Both for fundraising and to highlight the amazing work we do for California teens!

  57. This is so lovely. I’m scouring the comments for ideas!

    My husband and I don’t have kids yet but will start trying soon and this is something we’re discussing already. For Christmas this year, we contacted a local foster organization and asked if there were any kids we could “adopt” for the holiday. This organization also works with kids who have aged out of the foster system but don’t have any support system as they live on their own and start households at inordinately young ages. We’re adopting a 17-year old this year who lives on her own and asked for basics- socks, a coat, shoes, shampoo/conditioner.

    We’ve also extended this idea through to my husband’s business (in case you need ideas for how to do that, though I’m not sure our method will be of much use to you). He runs a soccer training academy and sent an email to all the parents asking for donations of gifts or cash for this same foster organization. These gifts will go to elementary school kids within the foster system whose foster families cannot afford gifts. We’ll use some company funds to purchase gifts as a contribution, too. Though we don’t have kids of our own, this concept presents his clients’ families with an opportunity to discuss how to help others in this season of giving/getting.

    Thanks so much for keeping this top-of-mind and helping me think of ways we can do more!


  58. The LDS Church has a Light the World campaign that includes really beautiful short videos for each day in December with ideas of how you can do an act of service. My kids really loved it last year and the ideas are very doable 🙂 It helped us to focus way less on presents.

  59. I keep checking in to read all the comments as I’ve wanted to do more for others that involve our family. So thank you for this wonderful post!

    I love the idea of this advent calendar


    Most of all I’d like to do more year round, and not just at Christmas, and focus on the environment as well as people. In the summer, I plan to take my children beach combing and clear up all the little things in the sand, hopefully educating them about all the dangers of plastic – and making sure the beach can be enjoyed by everyone.

  60. I just wanted to say thank you for all the thoughtful posts about parenting and your humble and receptive attitude towards comments and suggestions. My daughters are 2.5 and 8 months, and I have really appreciated so many of your posts. This thread has so many lovely ideas for me to store up for when they are older and a few for me to work on with my older child now. Thanks for always crowdsourcing your awesome Mom readers for all of our benefit. I hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas.

  61. I didn’t read every comment but among the fantastic ideas people came up with I realized there was one other area of service that wasn’t mentioned: our own homes. A lifestyle of service will extend far out beyond our own little sphere of influence, but I believe the training for that mindset and heart has to begin at home. My kiddos (same ages as yours) are starting to understand this just a little bit as we host a LOT of people at our house weekly for various play dates, bible studies, bad, etc. I try to include them in the preparations such as wiping down outdoor furniture, cleaning up their toys, cleaning windows, etc and while we work together we talk about how these actions will serve and bless our guests. They love to set out little goodies like water bottles and trail mix in our guest bedroom when we have overnight guests, and have even been known to “decorate” the bed with their stuffed animals, carefully selected and lovingly placed :). We talk about choosing a toy a new friend might enjoy, to welcome them and make them feel loved, and of course sharing their toys, letting guests pick the play activities, etc which helps build that mindset of others first. I’ve very recently just begun training them to do chores, clean up after themselves, etc to give them a chance to contribute to the family and household and serve one another. Including them takes a lot more work on my partI’m rather limited in my mobility at the moment with a new baby, but working to instill a sense of service within our home will reap benefits later on and in future environments!

  62. Hi Emily,

    Your family is very young so it is easy to feel like serving them is enough (and it is). As my boys started growing, I invited 12 boys and 1 girl get together and do service projects in our home once a month. We have made Birthday bags (disposable cooking dish, cake mix, icing, candles, special themed plates and kids make the cards) and gave them to our food bank. It was a huge hit and it is taken off from there. We have made dog and cat toys for SPCA, Welcome Bags (night lights, cuddle toys, blankets, snack packs, laundry pods for mom, socks,etc) for kids entering family shelters. Next week for xmas we are making bags with gloves, hats, small toys, food, card for teenagers not eligible for foster homes because of mental or behavioral reasons. every family brings one item to add to the bag. Our little group continues to grow and woman in the neighborhood ask when our next meeting is happening.

    As the boys get older we will enter the community and serve vulnerable schools, memory care homes, animal shelters and the food bank. Safe places that get them out of their bubble.

    I will say that there is a sweet website called THe Giving MANger that has a sweet manger and every service to an other you place a piece of hay in the manger and by xmas it is full and you place the baby jesus in Christmas morning. It comes with a book about what service does inside of you. THey give service ideas for the even the youngest family member like “smile at a new friend at school” simple, but sweet and loving. sweet alternative to the Elf on a Shelf tradition that we really love.
    All that being said, sometimes just inviting a lonely neighbor in for coffee is service. Do what you can when you can.

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