5 Things to Know When Adopting a Military Family for Christmas
In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget that there are many families that struggle to make ends meet on a regular basis, and know that special Christmas gifts for their children are completely out of the question. Military families, often living on very tight budgets, are no different.
Thankfully, there are many national organizations that coordinate efforts to connect military families that could use some assistance with sponsors wanting to help. Adopting a military family for the Christmas season is a very practical and easy way to say thank you for their service, and to ensure that a military child has a brighter, happier holiday.
As you begin your efforts to adopt a military family, here are five things to keep in mind:
Know and Prepare Your Budget
While some organizations focus simply on acquiring gifts for children, others look to provide funds to help the military family with a holiday meal as well. Typically, donors are asked to provide a gift card in a specified amount so that the family can do its holiday shopping on their own. In some cases, you can order a prepared holiday meal and have the family pick it up themselves at a local grocer if they would prefer that instead. For the safety and health concerns, donors are not allowed to actually prepare the meal itself, although you may be able to contact your local base’s MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) office to participate in hosting a service member at your home for a holiday meal (often known as “Operation Homecooking” or another similar name).
If you cannot afford to adopt a family fully on your own – many organizations request specific amounts for food cards and a price range for gifts for each child – consider teaming up with another sponsor family, a friend, or co-workers. Alternately, if you own a business or are a member in a large organization, consider adopting multiple families, based on your budget. While individual citizens are asked to not invite families to their home residence for privacy reasons, you can invite them to a business or organization holiday party, although this should not be required to receive the gifts. Some families will not feel comfortable attending such an event in this capacity, and you should respect their preferences.
Giving Near and Far
You do not have to reside in the same city as your adopted family, although you will be responsible for shipping the gifts and food card as needed, with plenty of time to receive before Christmas. For this reason, some people prefer to adopt local families, via an organization like Soldiers Angels that matches families to service men and women based on location, or through their nearest military installation’s MWR office. If you plan to deliver the gifts in person, you should choose a safe, public location to meet, rather than your private residence or that of the family. While most national organizations that pair families with sponsors do thoroughly screen families involved, it’s still a good idea to preserve privacy and ensure comfort for all involved.
For Whom to Buy
Your gifts will depend on the number of dependents in the family. Most organizations require that gifts are purchased only for children 18 years and younger, and set a specific price range for each child (around $35-$50 each). There may be older children in the household, but it is up to sponsor to decide if he or she would like to purchase gifts for these individuals as well, along with the parents. It is not required, however, as the focus of these programs tends to be ensuring that the young children in the family have gifts to open on Christmas Day. Ideally, a sponsor will be able to communicate with the family via phone or email ahead of time to get an idea on what each child likes and needs, combining some practical gifts with some fun items.
Gift Ideas for All Ages
It can be challenging to know what gifts to buy for a child that you are “adopting” for the holidays, especially if you do not have children or extended family in that age range. Some organizations include gift requests from the families or children, and they are typically modest or somewhat practical. If you are purchasing the requested item, and it meets a more practical need (new pants, socks, etc.), consider including a smaller, fun gift as well. While everyone appreciates receiving helpful, practical gifts, a gift that offers pure enjoyment can really help a child experience the innocent joy of the season and take their mind off any hard times they are experiencing, even momentarily. You can even find some affordable, smaller items at your local Dollar Store or Five Below store.
Some ideas for children include:
Gifts ages 0-3: Baby dolls, doll clothes, musical or talking toys, blocks, activity books, rocking or riding toys, pretend play toys (play food, strollers, farms, etc.), balls, shape sorters, play mat, bath toys, animal or dinosaur figures.
Gifts ages 4-7: Barbie dolls and accessories, action figures, art or craft projects and supplies, Legos, dress-up items, cars, planes, trains, blocks, building toys, board games, puzzles, outdoor sports items, bubbles, swords, nicer tea sets, scooters.
Gifts ages 8-12: Remote control toys, sports balls and equipment, Legos, board and card games, science experiment kits, art and crafts projects, jewelry kits, MP3 player, room decorations, posters, music, journals or writing sets, model trains or cars, scooters, bikes, electronic games.
Teens: Jewelry, music, MP3 player, board or card games, sports equipment, make-up, cologne or perfume, scented lotion, arts and craft projects, video games, hair accessories or styling tools, gloves, scarves, baseball caps, DVDs, room decorations, posters, gift card to local salon for haircut or manicure, sports clothes or jerseys, gift cards to local fast food restaurant, hoodie, outdoor sports items like football.
By taking the time and effort (and funds) to adopt a family this holiday, you will truly be making a difference in the lives of multiple people. You may never know the full impact your actions will have on the children and parents involved, but you can rest assured that you are helping make a happy memory for all those involved, and letting them take their minds off their financial concerns, at least for one day. By helping a military family have a more joyful Christmas, you not only thanking them for their service, but actively perpetuating the true meaning of the season: sharing love with your fellow man.
Written by Megan Hammons