The Spirit of Giving

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For as long as I can remember, Christmas wasn’t just a time I associated with giving and receiving gifts but also a time spent giving back to my community. It never really felt like the holiday season until I spent hours after school helping my mom prepare for the TECH tree auction, a charity event that meant a lot to her each year. Like every kid, I had a long list of toys and games I wanted each year, but my parents made sure I understood that not everyone’s Christmas season looked like mine. This can be a challenging discussion to have with your children, but I am thankful it’s a conversation that was had with me at a young age. 

 

Throughout my adult life, I have found ways to give back to causes in my community that are meaningful to me. It hasn’t always been a lot, especially when I was in grad school or had just purchased my first home. And it hasn’t always been monetary; sometimes, it’s the gift of time spent helping an organization that needed an extra set of hands that day. I have come to know that my effort is never too little to make an impact, especially if there is an army of little efforts coming together to turn into something big and beautiful.

 

a pile of presents set aside to celebrate the spirit of giving at the holidays as they will go to help others

 

One year I came across the 100 Neediest Cases campaign through the United Way. I had only gotten through a few of the cases before I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of—  but I have to be honest, the word “neediest” was scary to me. When I commit to something, I want to make sure I fully commit. And what this meant to me, in this case, was that this family got the Christmas that they truly deserved. I reached out to my friends to see if anyone would be able to help me make this happen, and I was overwhelmed with the positive response that I received. But just like my initial feelings, the word “neediest” was scary to them, too, so we opted to adopt a small family of three.

 

I created a sign-up, and for the next month, we worked together to collect furniture, clothing, appliances, and toys for the family. By the end, we had collected far more than they had asked for, and our hearts were full, seeing what we could accomplish as a team. With new confidence, we realized we could have taken a larger family that year. So after we delivered our gifts to the organization, we got on the list for a larger family the next year.

 

Over the next five years, we have continued to take on larger families, and more people have joined in to contribute to the cause. I know as moms, we sometimes joke about how we are turning into our own mothers, but in this case, I am happy that I have followed in her footsteps to make my own season of giving. Now that I am a mom, I have made it a point to start early with my oldest daughter. It’s important to me to instill an “attitude of gratitude” in my children during the holidays. 

 

Last year my daughter was three, and I had her help me prepare the gifts for drop off. To a child this age, it was very confusing (and a little upsetting) to think about how the gifts weren’t meant for her. Like any three-year-old, she first tried to keep the gifts for herself. We sat down together, and I explained to her that Christmas is meant to be enjoyed by everyone. Sometimes we need to share our gifts with other families to make sure everyone has enough. This doesn’t mean that she won’t have any for herself— it just means other families will get some, too. At this time, she was learning a lot about sharing and was excited to practice sharing with other people.

 

a mom and her child volunteering with donations for the holidays

 

This year I have loved watching her grow and mature into a caring four-year-old with a big heart. I’m excited to share this activity together and allow her to make more decisions about our adopted family. She’s excited that she gets to go shopping with me this year, help wrap the gifts, and load them all up in the truck for delivery. In her eyes, she’s loving helping mommy help other people for the holidays. But in my eyes, I love thinking about the possibility that she may continue walking along this path of giving during the holidays, just as her mom and grandmother had done before her.

 

For more information visit: www.100NeediestCases.org

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Haley was born and raised in small town Kansas. She moved to St. Louis after graduating from the University of Kansas to attend graduate school at Lindenwood. Her 2 year plan to live in St. Louis turned in 12 when she met her husband. They were married on home plate at Busch Stadium in 2015 and are parents to two girls, Presley (4) and Piper (7 months), Haley stared her career as a Certified Athletic Trainer working at high schools all throughout St. Louis. After returning to nursing school she was a Trauma ICU nurse for 5 years before taking on her current role as the Injury Prevention and Outreach Coordinator at a Level 1 Trauma Center. Outside of work Haley blogs about local food and businesses as part of the Yelp Elite Squad, volunteers for Make-A-Wish MoKan, and loves strength training and self care. Haley considers herself a “wrangler of tiny females”. She loves raising a strong willed preschooler who both challenges and amazes her. Haley loves living in St. Louis and feels it has so much to offer to inspire children and foster creativity. You can follow her at @mamastrebs.