Tips for seasonal adopt-a-family activities

Adopting a family is a terrific charitable giving activity for donating gifts and necessities to local nonprofit organizations, which then place those items directly into the hands of families who are facing challenges, especially during the holidays or during back-to-school season. There are many options for this traditional form of adopting a family. Search online for "adopt a family" and you'll find dozens of local organizations you can contact to get this done.

But a twist on the traditional idea is gaining popularity. Instead of going out shopping for a family, some people are doing something else to adopt a family--writing a check.

Yes, it's fun to go out shopping for children who need presents or backpacks. But sometimes the nonprofit organizations serving these families need a lot more than gifts for the kids. Social services, medical care, emergency assistance, money to pay staff and keep the facilities going. All of these things take money, and your donation will be particularly welcome during those times during year when families have extra expenses.

But does that take all of the fun out of doing good? Just giving money to a charity of choice?

Not if you put together your own "adopt a family" package and zero in on exactly the difference you want to make in the lives of others.

This is a wonderful way to teach children about charitable giving, gratitude, and empathy for others. For example, ask your children to imagine the life of another child exactly their age who does not have as much as they have. What would that child need? Money to pay for school lunches? Enough money to go to the dentist? A new sweatshirt? Money for swimming lessons or a pair of glasses? Think about the same question for yourself. If you were not so fortunate, what might you need? Help paying the rent? Counseling services? Someone to help you navigate legal services or Social Security benefits?

Next, do a little research online and find one or two local organizations that meet these needs--especially those same organizations that operate traditional adopt a family programs. When you write a check for whatever amount you feel is appropriate and in your budget, send the money with a note about why you decided to make this gift: because you wanted to adopt a family of people just like you--only less fortunate. It's a great story for the nonprofit organization's staff to share with each other for inspiration and encouragement for the important work they do. Plus, if you want, you can also indicate how you'd like your donation to be spent.

You'll be surprised at how rewarding this activity really is. You're helping people who need it, during seasons when so many of us give and receive so much. And you'll be helping yourself, too, because you will feel so grateful for everything you have.

And remember, no donation is too large or too small. If you can give a little, you have a lot.