Giving Back- One Letter at a Time

Written by: Shelly Tozzi

As parents, its easy to get caught up in our busy schedules, and giving back to the community sometimes takes a back seat.  We want to teach our kids to be charitable and compassionate, but we may not know how.  Here's a great way that our family (and the NPN community!) pulled together to introduce our children to the spirit of giving. 

Direct Effect Charities collects Letters to Santa from underprivileged students in Chicago Public Schools and distributes them to donors willing to fulfill the child’s request in the letter.  In 2011, Direct Effect distributed nearly 10,000 letters.  I personally found donors for nearly 400 of those letters.  It was an unexpected twist in a simple charity effort I committed myself to over ten years ago.  What began as a small way to give back to my community blossomed into numerous gestures of kindness, community, and generosity. 

In 2011, I decided to appeal to the NPN community to increase the number of letters we could fulfill.  As the requests started pouring in, I was shocked by what transpired.  Moms and dads offered gift-buying advice.  Busy parents volunteered to collect and deliver gifts to schools.  Strangers rang my doorbell with armloads of gifts when there was a last-minute shortage at some of the schools.  It reminded me of the final scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when the community came together to save George Bailey from financial ruin.  It was awe-inspiring and overwhelming.      

The greatest part of this experience was that my then four-year-old son witnessed all of it.  He helped me pick up bundle after bundle of letters from the charity.  He saw the beautiful artwork the children so carefully crafted on the envelopes.  He listened as I read the letters aloud to him.  He helped me shop for gifts for the letters we answered ourselves.  He saw people come and go at our doorstep bearing gifts for children they did not know.  And he saw his parents working very hard for these children.  He may not have grasped the overall impact of what we were doing.  He may even have been more motivated by being “Santa’s helper” than by a desire to give, but we set an example of charitable giving and he was an active participant.

Despite the seemingly incessant pleas for more toys, kids have a natural desire to help and give.  When we provide hands-on opportunities for them to contribute, they feel great about themselves and they feel empowered to make a difference.  Younger kids in particular will understand direct involvement opportunities more than they will understand how saving money in their piggy banks helps to feed or clothe nameless children.   

If you would like to participate in my 2012 Letters to Santa project, please visit my website at for additional information.  You can also “Like” my Facebook page “Dear Santa Letters Chicago” for up-to-the-minute notifications and updates.  I’m looking forward to getting even more letters into the hands of donors this year!

Posted on April 24, 2012 at 8:18 AM