Christmas morning is a time when most children in the United States can expect gifts, sweets, and happy memories with their family. This isn’t the case for many, though. Although the United States is a wealthy country, it has consistently ranked as one of the worst for childhood poverty compared to other countries with similar income levels and resources.
Children across the US struggle with hunger, access to education, and the necessary resources to become thriving adults. Poverty is often intergenerational and therefore extremely difficult to overcome, as the same hurdles parents face will be passed down to their kids.
How Many Kids in America Are Living in Poverty?
One in seven children, almost 10.5 million, live in poverty in the United States. Of all children who are living below the poverty line in the US, the youngest are the most at risk to go hungry or face homelessness. One in six children under the age of six are considered poor and about half of those kids live in what is considered extreme poverty.
What Can We Do To Help?
Underprivileged children face systemic challenges from an early age that don’t set them up to succeed the best they should. Some of these factors are deep rooted in our country’s culture. Government programs that are supposed to help at-risk populations like low-income families are constantly at risk of being defunded and sometimes even exclude the poorest families that need help the most.
We can make a difference for underprivileged children and their families by using our time and funds to address some of the specific challenges they face. Some of these areas to direct our attention include: access to affordable childcare, educational support for children, sufficient and nutritious meals, supplies for school and play, and access to warm clothing.
Volunteer Your Time
Volunteering gives kids the opportunity to interact with others one-on-one, learn new skills, and enjoy play time with caring adults. Quality childcare services and academic assistance for kids can be inaccessible for low-income families, so these are great places to start! Check out greatnonprofits.org to see which organizations are seeking volunteers near you.
Childcare in the US can cost around $16,000 a year per child. In 2019, 80% of families with two children paid more for childcare than for their rent. This is impossible for low-income families to afford. Parents are forced to choose between working a full-time job or staying home to take care of their kids. A quick Google search can tell you which volunteer child care programs exist in your community for low-income families. These programs allow children to enjoy one-on-one attention, get homework help, or some much-needed play time while their parents can work to provide for them.
Volunteers of America host such programs, like in this example, where a mother was able to attend night school and create a better life for her family while her little girl was cared for in an after school volunteer program.
All children deserve to have an equal opportunity to succeed as adults. A huge part of making this a possibility is receiving a solid education. Illiteracy is another intergenerational challenge for families in poverty. The majority of children living in low-income housing are from families whose parents have less than a high school diploma. Literacy programs for kids and volunteer tutoring can provide the additional academic support these children require to break the cycle and take their education further.
The organization Red Nose Day accepts volunteers for programs to fight childhood illiteracy.
Since government programs unfortunately don’t reach all of the families that need them for a variety of reasons, charities and nonprofits try to pick up the slack. Donating to programs that provide vital resources like food, educational materials, and medical care to low-income families can make the difference in their children escaping poverty.
During the pandemic, the amount of children facing hunger in the US rose from 10 million to 12 million in just a year. As parents were getting laid off, schools were also closing, which meant children weren’t getting their subsidized school lunches. Struggling with hunger makes it impossible for a child to focus in school and can demoralize them emotionally, making the cycle of poverty more likely to continue. Donating food to local shelters and organizations can have an immediate impact for families struggling to eat. Another option is schoollunchfairy.org, which provides emergency funds for lunches to schools. If a student doesn’t have enough money for lunch that day, the fund will pay for it immediately.
For Medical Expenses
Having a child is expensive, but that cost rises for families whose children have special needs, disabilities or become very sick. Low-income families are forced to choose between years of debt and the life of their child. Redtreehouse.org has compiled an extensive list of organizations and nonprofits who provide services or in-kind donations to families whose children need specialized medical care. Take a scroll through their list of partners to make donations or you can donate directly to redtreehouse.org on their website.
Make In-kind Donations
If you don't have a lot of extra money or time, you might have some extra things around the house you can give to those in need. There are many organizations that need in-kind donations all year round.
Clothing, school supplies, and books
Especially during these cold winter months, local children in your town can benefit greatly from donated coats, pants, hats and other warm items. School supplies allow kids to arrive at school prepared and ready to learn, while donating books can give them the opportunity to explore and learn at home. Oftentimes schools, churches and daycares accept donations, or you can always head over to your local Salvation Army to donate goods.
Organizations like LA Baby Cooperative provide diapers and wipes for families struggling to afford these essential items. You can make in-kind or cash donations at http://lababycooperative.org/ to help with their cause of distributing over 1,000s of diapers every weekend in downtown Los Angeles.
Start a Teddy Bear Drive
It’s amazing how a simple teddy bear can bring a smile to a child’s face. This is something we at Bears for Humanity have witnessed time and time again. Children at children’s hospitals often need an extra dose of love and someone to cuddle with while they fight their illnesses, while their parents often struggle to make ends meet under the weight of medical bills. Starting a teddy bear drive and donating bears to a worthy charity like Save the Children could help a little one make it through with a little less stress and a little more love. Check out Donorthreesixty.com for one of the easiest ways to start a toy drive. They stock all of your favorite Bears for Humanity’s bears.
Celebrate by Giving Back
Giving back is something we look forward to at Bears for Humanity. Each time one of our soft, cuddly teddies is purchased, we donate a second plushie to an underprivileged child in need. Remembering those children who need some extra love is something very close to our hearts. From time to time, Bears for Humanity also donates portions of our proceeds to worthy charities across the United States. If you have a charity that you’d like to suggest, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.