Holiday Hope: Little Gifts Equal Big Smiles

A little gift can go a long way…especially when you live in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. For children living in the slums and rural areas on the island of Hispaniola, gifts are a rare, or even nonexistent, treat. But if you’re like most Americans in the current economy, the idea of sending a gift to a child in another country seems really far away as you look at your Christmas shopping list.   

That’s why packing a simple shoebox (we all have one or two of those lying around!) with basic items like soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, hard candy and a couple of dollar store toys is a perfect way to make sure a child in need gets a Christmas present. In fact, if you’ve recently visited the dentist, you probably have an extra toothbrush and tube of paste lying around. Soap-it almost always comes in packs of four or more-just add one of the bars to the shoebox. A child on the edge of the cholera outbreak in Haiti will greatly appreciate your gift as she washes her hands free of the germs that could make her seriously ill. Of course, you can get fancy by purchasing a plastic shoebox and a few higher end items if you can, but whatever you can afford will be perfect and make a child very happy.

How can you do this? Send a  shoebox present through New Missions. Serving in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, they make sure kids who may not normally get presents are blessed this Christmas. And believe me, that $2 jump rope will be treasured. What little they receive, they are resourceful with it and make it last and last.

Got kids? They will have a blast helping pick out items for the box. Go to shoeboxdrive.com for a list, packing instructions and drop off locations for Central Florida residents. If you are not local, directions for mailing are also included.

Boxes are being collected throughout December, so add an extra little gift or two to your shopping basket or bag and help a child have a reason to smile this Christmas.

Holiday Hope: Get Christmas Cards and So Much More!

The holidays are almost here! Time for shopping, gift giving, card sending, baking, feasting and, most importantly, spreading HOPE this season. Looking for hope-giving ideas? Starting today, I will be posting several ways to spread joy where it’s desperately needed. Some ways will involve directly helping with a need while others will provide you with a unique gift for that hard-to-shop-for person in your life with the proceeds benefitting a great cause. 

Let’s get started!

Got your Christmas cards, yet? Even if you have already picked out your favorite box set and sent out greetings to every cousin on your list (in which case, I’m VERY impressed-will you address my cards, too?), why not send out a few more for a good cause?

Hope for the Homeless

Coalition for the Homeless, a Central Florida agency which provides meals, shelter for entire families (a rarity), education, advocacy and numerous other services for the homeless, is offering holiday card sets for sale. The cards are simple but elegant with a red background and white script. Two families impacted by the Coalition’s efforts are featured on the back. Inside, a message tells the recipient that, by purchasing the card for them, you made a donation to the Coalition.

So, not only are you giving Aunt Molly a Christmas card, you are also giving her the gift of a donation to a worthy organization in her honor! Plus, the price is affordable. At $2 per card…they come in boxes of 10…it’s approximately what you pay for fancy foil cards, anyway. Expect to receive your order in five business days.

Own a business? Coalition for the Homeless will also customize your card with your company logo…offering another great way to show your clients how much your company cares.

Here’s the link to the info and order sheets: Holiday Card order form

Feed the Hungry

For a few dollars more, you can help out another great Central Florida organization: Second Harvest Food Bank. The food bank distributes donated food to hundreds of Central Florida agencies. Their $5 holiday cards feature a green background with a child’s handwritten wish list. The inside greeting also explains to your recipient that you have donated to the food bank on their behalf. Here’s the amazing part: they will address and send your cards for you! I’m not kidding! And the best part? The proceeds from each card provide twenty meals for those in need! Seriously!!! 

For more info: Holiday Cards

TONS of Other Causes

If you’re interested in sending cards in support of other causes, check out Good Cause Greetings and Cards for Causes. Both offer several categories of organizations…from the environment to health…education to international…and so much more. Each category is filled with tons of causes. Plus, you can choose from many different card styles. 

Join me in sending greetings with a purpose…and spreading hope…this holiday season!

Next up…

Have you purchased a pair of shoes to go with your holiday outfit? In the next blog, I’ll be sharing a great way to spread a little hope with that simple shoebox.

Extra Halloween Candy?

It’s the day after Halloween…and the recovery has begun. Cleaning up cobwebs, putting away costumes, sorting candy…lots and lots of candy. Unless you had a late night trick-or-treating rush by the middle school boys wearing monster masks, you’re like me and have a sack or two of the sweet stuff left over. What to do with the extra confections…besides leaving them out to tempt us with all that sugary goodness and potential weight gain? Fortunately, we have a few options to do good things with our extra candy.

If you are out of candy but still want to participate in one of these great goody give-a-ways, now is the time to purchase more candy. Stores have slashed the price of Halloween themed sweets so you can get some really good deals.

Care Packages for the Troops

Hundreds of dentist offices across the country are offering a candy buy-back. Most are holding their buy-backs today, but you might find some offices willing to take candy over the next few days. If your children are the ones handing over their candy, they can earn neat prizes (like light-up toothbrushes) or get paid an average of a $1 per pound of candy. The candy typically is donated to Operation Gratitude to put in care packages for troops. Our extra candy makes great gifts for homesick servicemen and women. However, they also use the candy to build relationships with the children in the areas where they are serving.

For more information on Operation Gratitude or see how you can help them directly: http://www.opgratitude.com/

To search for a participating dentist and learn more about the buy-back program: http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/

Keep Giving to Kids

Many organizations that work with kids are looking for sweet treats. Check with your local Ronald McDonald House (visit www.rmhc.org to locate one near you) and see if they accept candy donations.

Also, children’s programs at churches use candy for various activities and events. Many ministries, especially small churches with equally small budgets, appreciate any extra candy you can offer.  

Sweets for Seniors

Of course adults of all ages love candy and organizations like Meal on Wheels (www.mowaa.org) can help you distribute your stash. Visit their website to find your local program, then search their needs list for candy requests.

For a personal touch, pass out bags of candy at a local nursing home.  Fill sandwich bags with your extra candy…or pick up treat bags at the party store for an extra special touch…then drop off bags at the front desk. Of course, if you can pass out bags in person, you’re guaranteed to make the residents’ day. Either way, be sure to call the nursing home first to make arrangements.

Have fun giving away your candy!

Hope for Hispaniola

It was July 2007 when we fell in love with Hispaniola. Lush green tropical forest sweeping down majestic mountains to touch azure seas-so captiviating…and a distant second to the wonderful people my husband and I have met in our five visits to the Dominican Republic side of the island. However, we may never have landed on that strip of paradise if not for the organization in today’s Hope Spotlight.

Just a few months before our first visit, friends moved to the north coast town of Sosua. Their reason for relocating? After several previous trips with their church to help missionaries on the island, they knew it was the place for them. So they signed on with New Missions (www.newmissions.org) to run a health center to serve the poor in the community.

So, it was through visiting John, Melissa, and their daughter, Kate that we were introduced to New Missions..which is fast becoming a beacon of hope in Sosua. In addition to a health center, they also have several schools and their churches are a central gathering place for the community…including the large expatriate community.

New Missions is not only present on the east side of the island…it’s presence is much larger and more established on the southwest side. In fact, they actually started the ministry in Haiti in 1983. Because of the passion and faith in God of founders George and Jeannie DeTellis, their family and co-laborers, New Missions now educates over 10,000 children in its schools, provide food for each student’s family, has twenty-four churches throughout the Leogane Plain, and staffs a large contingent of medical personnel-specifically nurses. The DeTellis family saw a desperate situation in Haiti and has worked in harsh conditions throughout the years to bring hope to a very hopeless region. Even through the earthquake earlier this year…in which New Missions lost a majority of their structures due to their proximity to the epicenter, New Missions helped people both in Haiti, and U.S. supporters, see that hope does remain in sight for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.       

Several really neat things are happening at, through, and for New Missions . I’ll be sharing more in the days and weeks ahead.

Saturday is…

Logo courtesy of USA WEEKEND Magazine

“Make a Difference Day!” While every day is a new day for making the world a better place, this Saturday is officially set aside for us all to contribute at the same time. Know of a need that’s been tugging at your heart but you just haven’t had a moment to act? Then Saturday is the day! Whatever we decide to do, be it plant flowers at a community building, hand out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the homeless, or help a friend paint his living room, let’s do kind deeds to make others smile.

Not sure what to do? USA WEEKEND Magazine, creator of “Make a Difference Day,” has a database filled with suggestions. You can search for an event near you or add details about your own project. After the day is complete, submit your event pictures and details to the magazine and you may win an award or $10,000 for your favorite charity!

To find out more information or download resources, visit www.makeadifferenceday.com.

So let’s join millions of people all over the world (2,000 people are expected to show up in El Salvador!); including celebs like Shaq and other NBA players, for one big day of sharing and caring together.

Blue Pumpkins

Photo by Byant Olsen (Flickr)

I love Fall…the cooler evenings, golden sunsets, and college football every Saturday! Where I live in Florida, the changes are a bit more subtle than the rest of the country, but the appearance of pumpkin patches are a definitive announcement of the season. Fields in front of churches, schools and farm stands suddenly “sprout” those heavy, orange squash, just begging to be carved into a scary faces and placed on a bales of hay by our front doors.

As I was driving around town and admiring a few freshly laid patches recently, I pondered the proceeds of this October purchasing tradition. Typically a nonprofit organizes and runs a sale and then uses the funds raised for their group’s activities. By itself, this seems reason enough to make my yearly pumpkin purchase from a local youth group or school instead of the grocery store.

Then I started to wonder, do any of these fundraisers take this yearly tradition a step further and designate their profits to benefit another person or organization in need? So home to Google I went…

And I found several stories…many churches use the funds to help local food pantries or to run their own food distribution ministries (excellent!)…but the story that really caught my eye is of an 8th grade Ohio student, Abby Pawlak. When Abby was age 10, she became concerned about other children who were experiencing abuse. Wanting to help out, she painted pumpkins blue-which is a reminder of the bruises abused children bare. After decorating the pumpkins with ribbons and cards of explanation, she sold the pumpkins and raised money for the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center. Three years later, the sale is an anticipated fall tradition. Abby also sells t-shirts and candles along with the pumpkins. View a video of Abby at abcloal.go.com - then click BluePumpkin.org to visit her website. 

Let’s shine the spotlight on Abby and give her a round of applause for helping us see that the colors of fall are not always golden. Sometimes we need to see a little blue to remember that not all people feel like appreciating sunsets.

Hope for Ghanian Kids

“If you want to be our friends, be careful…you will probably end up serving in another country or state.” My husband and I jokingly tell people we meet. Actually, we’re only half joking. It seems many of our friends do move away to work for missions, aid organizations or ministries. While we miss them, we are thankful we get the chance to visit them. Plus, those visits have taken us to some very unique places-and given me the inspiration for this blog!

One of those places was Ghana. Last November, we had the privilege of visiting friends in this country in West Africa. Alan and Tywonn spent most of 2009 living and working in Accra, the capital city. Thrilled to visit this “new to us” land, we enjoyed ten wonderful days with our friends. As a part of our time with them, I had the chance to visit Tywonn’s special project.

Tywonn, who is a registered nurse, discovered Beacon House orphanage soon after moving to Accra. They needed nursing help and so she spent a few days each week volunteering to care for the children. She took the children to medical check-ups and prepared the orphanage staff to care for each children’s unique physical needs. Several of the children are HIV positive, while others have a host of illnesses…many of which are the result of malnutrition or limited prenatal care. The children stole my heart and I instantly saw why they were Tywonn’s delight.

Fast forward…

After returning to the United States last December, Tywonn missed working with the kids. So she stayed in touch with the orphanage director and arranged a return visit. After much anticipation, she left yesterday for the journey back across the Atlantic to the country, children, and friends she fell in love with last year.

And Tywonn will not be traveling light…Reality, The Church, in Lake Mary, Florida, has formed a relationship with Beacon House with Tywonn’s help. They gathered and donated enough supplies (formula, cloth diapers, diaper cover, baby clothing, toothpaste, and much more) to fill Tywonn’s two suitcases (total weight=100 pounds)! The orphanage depends on donations such as the one Reality is sending-I know they will be excited to receive the gift!

After delivering the gifts, Beacon House will keep Tywonn busy. Giving out hugs, bandaging booboos and shuttling kids to the clinic…her skills are invaluable to the children and staff. She will also help welcome an HIV positive toddler who will be arriving during her stay. She will be taking the child for a full medical checkup and help the staff determine the best ways to care for the child’s needs-they appreciate having a trained nurse deciphering the doctor’s treatment plan!

Tywonn’s trip will last ten days. I will post her story and pictures, plus more about Beacon House, when she returns…so stay tuned!

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