Noe Valley Voice December-January 1998-99

Kids Picks: It's Better to Give Than to Receive

By Dodie Hamblen

"Too crazy!" and "Too much useless junk!" are phrases uttered again and again when parents talk about the holidays.

"My kids get all this stuff, and then they don't even play with it," says one frustrated Noe Valley mom. "We spend Christmas Day in a blizzard of wrapping paper."

So how do you combat the "I wants" and "gimme, gimmes"? One way is to start a family tradition of charitable giving.

Collect Toys for Tots

A gift-giving tradition you and your kids can easily support is the San Francisco Fire Fighters Toy Program. Now in its 49th year, this volunteer-run, nonprofit organization of active and retired firefighters distributed toys to more than 42,000 children last season. The group accepts toys for boys and girls through age 11 at neighborhood fire stations throughout the city.

"We get a pretty good response at Station 11 [26th and Church]," says firefighter Melissa Lerma, who coordinates the event. "A lot of the firefighters really get involved. Parents bring their kids in when they drop off the toys, and the guys say, 'Hey, that's great you're giving somebody else a toy,' and then they'll show the kids around the station. It's a nice little ritual for families. My kids have learned a lot about giving from the program."

From now until Santa's arrival, you're invited to bring unwrapped new, or gently used toys to either of our local fire stations, located at 3880 26th St. (between Church and Dolores) or 100 Hoffman Ave., at Alvarado. Or call 558-3555 for a list of other donation sites.

Share Your Storybooks

Here's another idea: Give books to needy children. The Children's Book Project collects new and used children's books for schools, shelters, and day care programs throughout the Bay Area. Since it began in 1992, the organization has collected over 100,000 books.

Founder Vicki Pollack, a reading specialist who operates the program from the basement of her Bernal Heights home, says, "We give out books throughout the year, but we give out more books at this time of year for Christmas gifts. We get them through book drives at schools and other places, but we've also had people collect books at their holiday parties."

The organization has also started using collection containers. "Look for our blue collection bags at shops along 24th Street," says Pollack. The Terra Mia pottery studio, Starbucks, Juice-It, and the Real Food Company are among the local drop-off spots.

Call Pollack at 647-2042 to find out other ways to help with the project.

Adopt a Family

"The holidays are a real dilemma for families in our culture," says Pat O'Connor, director of Wind in the Willows preschool at 1444 Church St.

But every December, in an effort to help those in need, her preschool adopts a family through Talk Line, a program of the San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center. Families of children who attend Wind in the Willows donate toys, clothes, and food to their adopted family at Christmas.

"We've been doing this for 10 years, and it's been very well received," says O'Connor. "We collect 70 to 80 presents, plus food. Our families are a wonderful resource. They participate in the spirit of giving, and that fosters the idea of giving in their children.

"Talk Line is a wonderful service," O'Connor adds. In addition to a crisis hotline (441-KIDS), Talk Line offers counseling and child care for stressed-out parents who need a break. For information about the program, call Anita Moran at 387-3684.

O'Connor, who's directed Wind in the Willows for 11 years, also has some tips for creating pleasant holiday memories. "Kids really want the gift of your time. Create your own celebrations and rituals, like singing and baking cookies," she suggests. "Try to do something non-material that has lasting value and can be added to from year to year. By the time kids are 3 or 4, you can introduce the idea of giving to those who are less fortunate."

And you might want to remind your kids of this maxim: The best things in life are not things. Happy holidays!