This is the time of year we hear a lot about traditions – spending time with family, participating in holiday activities and helping others who may not be as fortunate or who have fallen on hard times.
One tradition my family eagerly participates in is giving to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Toys for Tots program. We started several years ago when my two children were little.
Each year, they’d pick out toys or books that they’d want, and then donate them to Toys for Tots. Because my kids were making the decisions what to donate, I knew the toys were something that would be well received.
At first, they didn’t always understand why I asked them to pick out something they would like just to turn around and give it away, and, to someone they didn’t even know. However, as my children grew, this became an opportunity to talk about the importance of appreciating what we have and helping those less fortunate.
It’s now something they eagerly look forward to.
This year, in addition to our annual donation, my children joined me as volunteers at American Family’s Toys for Tots collection at the Employee Holiday Breakfast. We greeted families as they entered the breakfast and thanked them for their donations. It was a heartwarming experience to see the generosity of so many people.
The toys donated at American Family will join others in the area for distribution throughout Dane County.
Tracing its roots back to 1947 when the wife of a Marine Corps Reservist wanted to donate a doll to a needy child, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve has been providing toys to children who might otherwise go without.
Since its beginning, the Toys for Tots Program has distributed more than 469 million toys to over 216 million less fortunate children.
One of my most vivid childhood memories of the holidays was the year I knocked over the tree. I didn’t mean to, it just happened. I was maybe four or five years old and went after a toy that had rolled behind the tree. Not knowing any better, I went after it and in the course of my diligent toy retrieval efforts, managed to knock the tree down.
Unfortunately, I broke several ornaments that had a lot of sentimental meaning to my parents, spilled the water in the tree stand and broke a few light bulbs as well. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it scared the heck out of me.
Fast forward several years to when I had children of my own. Not wanting history to repeat itself, I always made sure our tree was secure. In addition to being solidly in the stand, I also used clear fishing line to secure the tree to the handles on the windows behind it. I also kept a close watch on my kids whenever they got to close.
In the years since, I’ve picked up a few other tips to help my family safely enjoy the holidays and not be afraid that someone will get sick or hurt. Some of these also apply to families with dogs or cats.
I’m sure there are things you do around your home to keep children and pets safe. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up that may help this holiday season.
- Avoid decorations that look like food and could tempt little ones (or pets) to try to eahc.
- Limit rich, fatty holiday foods which can easily lead to an upset stomach.
- Holiday plants like holly, mistletoe, lilies and poinsettias are poisonous.
- Keep lit candles away from little hands and wagging tails.
- Keep hot pots and pans on back burners to prevent them from being accidentally knocked over and causing a burn.
- Make sure toys are age and ability appropriate and don’t contain small parts that could be a choking hazard.
If you haven’t seen it, there’s also a great article in this month’s @dvisor with additional holiday safety tips for children and pets.
From my home to yours, I wish you all a happy, healthy, joyous – and safe – holiday season!
On Sept. 5, I participated in American Family’s Days of Caring by volunteering at the Second Harvest Foodbank in Madison, Wis. That afternoon, about 20 other coworkers and I packaged what seemed like thousands of pounds of generic Fruit Loops to be distributed to the hungry in Southwest Wisconsin.
Second Harvest Foodbank, southwestern Wisconsin’s largest hunger-relief organization, is a nonprofit organization committed to ending hunger in 16 southwestern Wisconsin counties through community partnerships. It serves nearly 141,000 people each year; 43 percent of whom are children.
From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, Second Harvest - together with its more than 225 partner agencies and programs - provided 12.6 million meals to those facing hunger. Second Harvest is part of Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity with 202 member food banks across the nation.
Second Harvest has the volunteer packaging program down to a science. It provided hair nets, aprons and gloves among five tables. Each table had its own scale, scoop and automatic bag tie apparatus into which you fed the end of the bag once it was filled with cereal. Given the competitive nature of those in the legal profession, it soon became a race to see which table could fill bags the fastest.
Our table won.
After just our short stint at scoopin’ loops, our upper arms and feet were a little sore the next day. It made us appreciate the comfortable office chairs at American Family. It also gave us a great opportunity to get to know people we see every day, but don’t have a chance to connect with.
You don’t really know someone until you’re up to your armpits in cereal with them…
At the end of our shift, we talked to another group that had just finished packaging vegetables. They shared that they volunteer once a week for several hours. That sort of dedication is impressive, but not hard to understand after you experience first-hand such fun while at the same time doing something that will help so many people.
Editor’s note: Want to help? American Family Insurance Madison, Wis., offices will be collecting food and cash donations for the Share Your Holidays food drive to benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank. Donation bins are available through Dec. 9 at our Madison offices for anyone to drop off non-perishable food items. There are also containers for cash donations. Or, you can visit the Feeding America website to find local food banks near you.