Am I alone in dreading all the packaged toys my children receive from their (well meaning) friends? I try to suggest art supplies or other items which will actually get used instead of being discarded after a week of play, but we still end up with a lot of stuff.
Personally, I really like the idea of hosting charitable birthday parties.
After much brainstorming, we’ve come up with a few charitable parties to host with friends (and then have a family party with a few gifts). This way, our child still feels special and they learn the importance of giving.
Party Theme #1- Books for Sick Kids. There are so many kids out there who have been stricken with horrific diseases and spend much of their (often too short) lives inside hospital walls. Host a party and ask each guest to bring new or slightly used books to donate. After the party, take your child to a local children’s hospital to donate the collected books (call in advance to arrange this, chances are your child will be given a tour and a child life specialist will collect the books). During the party, ask children to share why they brought a specific book (maybe its their favorite story, it makes them feel happy, etc…) and read a story or two out loud. Talk about the importance of giving to others and how blessed we are, then get on with kid fun- cake and games.
Party Theme #2- Baskets for homeless. Place a list of needed items in each invitation, asking guests to bring the items instead of a gift. Check with your shelter choice (a battered woman and child shelter is a good choice) to find out specific needs. Items might include: toothbrushes, bars of soap, toothpaste, lotion, tissues, socks, undies, small games, puzzles or toys for the kids, t-shirts, etc… At the party, have the children help sort the items into piles, baskets or bins by item type. Then begin assembling. One fun way to do this is to have the kids help decorate reusable canvas totes (plastic totes with lids or shower baskets work well also, remember portability is important). Label each bag or container with adult or child (and age range if appropriate). Discuss why you are doing this, some (gentle, age appropriate) information about how these people end up in shelters. Once the bags are assembled, clean up and move on to party fun. After the party, take your child to the shelter to drop the bags off.
Party Theme #3- Monetary collections for charity of choice. Find out specifics from your desired charity about fundraising, send out full information with the invitation (ie, in lieu of a gift, Jenny requests a donation to xyz charity. Donation basket and tax deductible receipts will be available at the party. A gift of $10 will provide… $20… $30… etc…). Give some background on the charity and why you’ve chosen them. Plan the party with a fun atmosphere (indoor playground, jumping houses, art party, cooking/baking party). Keep the focus on fun with friends, enjoying snacks and each other while helping others. (If you are unsure of which charity to choose, check with a local church, they have information on authentic charities.)
Party Theme #4- Food Bank. Ask guests to bring non-perishable items for your local food bank (get a list of most needed items from the bank). Have food as the focus of the party, make pizza’s together and decorate cupcakes. Talk about the blessings of food and why it’s vital for everyone to have nutritious things to eat. After the party, box your collected items and drop off. If you have arranged this in advance, your child can likely receive a tour and a little chat about the food bank and how many people it helps each week.
Party Theme #5- Animal Shelter. Request that guests bring an animal gift (dog or cat toy, treats, food, feeding dishes) in lieu of a gift for the Birthday child. Have an animal themed party. Invite a couple friends or family members to bring their dog, cat, bird, bunny, hamster, etc… over to have a mini petting zoo and animal lesson. After the party, help your little animal lover load up all the gifts and deliver them to your local shelter.
Other ideas, a sewing party (or a non-sewing, depending on materials) where the kids can make blankets for babies in the NICU. Collect coats, jammies or stuffed bears for kids in foster care. Make care kits for our military personal oversees. Collect toys for sick kids, foster kids or a holiday gifting program.
If your charity has a specific theme plan activities around that theme. If you are donating to Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong foundation, have guests brings their bicycles and helmets. Have short bike races and obstacle course. Give everyone a yellow ribbon or bracelet to wear. Decorate the cake with a cyclist in yellow or a big yellow ribbon.
With ideas like these, it won’t be hard to get your kids on board with a charitable party. Keep your child’s age in mind and be sensitive to their specific needs. Family gifts are definitely okay!
Photo Credit: Happy Birthday by Rob J Brooks on Flickr under Creative Commons License.