Tis the season for giving but now is also the perfect time to teach children the true meaning of Christmas by helping those less fortunate.
Led by major retailers, corporates, community groups and charities, more and more people are using the festive season to volunteer their time or reach into their pockets to support people in need.
Barnardos Australia marketing director Manisha Amin said it was important for children to have “something to look forward to all year’’ but for some kids Christmas only amplified how less fortunate they were through family break downs, violence or poverty.
“We work with children where families are struggling or where children have been removed from their home because of harm,’’ Ms Amin said.
Where most kids take it for granted there will be a pile of presents under the tree, our kids will be lucky if there’s one present under the tree — from us.’’
Since 2007 Barnardos has been running its Gifts for Kids campaign where people can go online, select a present for a boy or girl of whatever age they want and have it delivered in time for Christmas.
Last year it supplied 10,000 presents to children who would otherwise have had nothing to open come Christmas Day, an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year.
Ms Amin said it was a good time for parents to encourage their children to buy a toy for another child or make a donation to "let these children know there are people out there who care for them".
"It gets kids to think about all those values of empathy, caring and love,’’ she said.
One of the best gifts of all can simply be someone’s time. NSW Meals on Wheels marketing general manager Kathryn Dowling said volunteering during the festive period with mum or dad could plant the seed for a lifetime of helping others.
"Younger people accompanied by a parent who give time to Meals on Wheels say volunteering has helped them with their self-esteem and overall happiness,’’ Ms Dowling said.
"Every bit of help adds up to a happier, healthier community."
Ms Dowling said volunteering helped children feel part of their community and ``connected the generations’’ between young and old.
As it did last year supermarket giant Coles is supporting childhood cancer charity Redkite through its donation cards, which are an affordable way for even young children to feel like they’re making a difference.
"Until December 29, shoppers can buy a Redkire donation card in the shape of a Christmas character for $2 at their local Coles supermarket,’’ a spokeswoman said.
Coles has raised more than $15 million for Redkite since the partnership began in 2013. Exodus Foundation CEO the Reverend Bill Crews said volunteering, donating gifts and being part of canned food drives helped shape a child’s character.
“It’s good for them,’’ he said.
“At its most basic way, it’s good for people, particularly kids, because kids are intrinsically altruistic anyway.’’
He said a lot of children also volunteered to work with animals through various rescue shelters, which was “therapeutic for both of them, the child and the animal’’.
The Exodus Foundation’s Loaves and Fishes Free Restaurant serves more than 1000 meals a day with the homeless charity looking for 400 volunteers to help over the festive period, particularly after Christmas Day when many other services close until the new year.
Mr Crews said while some children asked their parents if they could get involved often it was the other way around.
"We find parents contact us because their kids have lived a bit of a selfish lifestyle,’’ he said.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph and was written by Richard Noone.)