The Story of Two Bears

and small acts of kindness

Once you know something, it’s hard to unknow it. After 13 years in the foster/adoptive community, I know that Christmas is a difficult time. It’s the time of year when many kids are removed for the first time from their birth parents. It’s a challenging time for birth families who are barely holding things together. Extra bills, the cold weather, expectations, and stress. For families from generational poverty and abuse, this time of year often brings up more pain than joy.

Christmas gift donation ideas for CASA

Things tend to go off the rails around Christmas. Even for kids long removed from trauma, neglect or abuse, the holidays can stir up anxiety, nerves, and behaviors. While I personally embrace minimalism for our family, minimalism only really works when we are able to replace “stuff” with other good things. Traditions, story time, adventures, warmth, and closeness. When kids live in poverty combined with abuse, neglect, drug use or food scarcity, if you take away the toys, Christmas feels like a big pile of crap. Well, it might feel that way anyway, but at least there is a new toy to distract from the fact.

So this year as I was flipping through the Black Friday ads, these bears caught my eye. These are the kind of gifts I would loathe my children receiving! But they are the kind of gift that, if a kid only gets one gift, might do the trick. I wasn’t sure I wanted to trek out for the sale, but I was in dire need of a new paper planner, which was also on sale, so off I went.

I wasn’t sure where exactly I would donate them. Child Protective Services likes to have a few extra gifts around. For the kids who end up in the ER a few days before Christmas, long after Angel Tree names have been passed out. I considered CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) as they are one of my favorite organizations. Dedicated volunteers who are the voice for kids in foster care and advocate for them. In the end, I dropped them off at a local mental health non-profit. Adam serves on the board of directors there. I love how they serve as a net to help catch people who might fall through the cracks in a way that empowers and gives dignity.

I was feeling happy as I thought about these two bears finding a new home this Christmas. Until I received this email.


The bears have found a home, with 2 children whose mother died this week.

Thanks for helping their sorrow with your generosity.

And my heart broke.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had to bury a child. Maybe it was thinking about losing your mom just before the holidays.

I’ve thought about those bears a lot this week. Their super soft fluff almost taking over an entire bed. The tears, fear, and hurt that unfolds after a tragedy like this.

You know how much I paid for those silly bears? $10. $10 a piece at Target.

$20 really isn’t a lot of money for us. I think most people, if faced with that circumstance, would happily donate $20. I don’t know anything about those kids, but I know if they are getting services at this non-profit there are some areas of life that are hard and these bears might have been a big deal to them.

Last year I wrote about how we can have a big impact with our giving, even with a small budget.

The four tenants were these:

  1. The Right Gift
  2. For Right Reason-Purpose
  3. To the Right Person
  4. At the Right Moment

The point of that post was to pay attention, and be attentive to the people around us so we can give those small but high impact gifts.

But there is another way.

Sometimes we can give to organizations who are showing up for people. With volunteers and staff, they are in the thick of it with the people they are serving. And they see the needs unfold every single day. We can help equip them to be able to give these high impact gifts.

Even though it broke my heart, I was thankful the director of this non-profit sent me this note. I’ve been praying for those two little kids this week. And it’s spurred me on.

giving to kids in foster care this Christamas

We all can give at different levels, in our time, attention, and money. By a rough count, we have donated $100,000 over the last 15 years. We have volunteered hundreds of hours. And adopted four kids from foster care. But giving isn’t reserved for those with great means. (We started giving when $50k in debt and earning $12k a year the first year we were married!) =)

Large gifts don’t negate small gifts. These two bears were a small gift. And they mattered.

Small acts of kindness matter. Because the gift might not be small for the recipient. The small gift might, in fact, make all the difference.

I have a blogging friend, who I’ll let remain anonymous for now. Every time I write something honest, true, and good, he writes me. He cheers me on, and speaks words of encouragement. It might take him a few minutes of his time. There is no dollar cost to it. But it means everything to me. It might be a small act of generosity for him, but it’s not small to me.

So as we go into the Christmas season, be encouraged. No matter what you feel like you have to give, your gift matters. It might a $10 teddy bear. It might be a note of encouragement. Or maybe you finally sign up to be a foster/adoptive parent. And on the worst day of a kids life, these kids find a soft place to fall in your home. Or maybe it’s time for a dollar donation that shakes you because it seems unreasonably large.

We all have the ability to create small waves of change. You never know what your small act of kindness might mean.



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45 thoughts on “The Story of Two Bears

  1. This is a beautiful post and your story made me tear up. It’s a great reminder that generosity is not about the size of the act, but just about doing something in the first place. I also really love the quote in your image. You make me want to go make a small wave of change.

    • It’s easy to discount the impact of our actions because we measure them by the cost to us. But the impact they can create might be 100 fold. Our acts of mico generosity can be game changers for others. Throw kindness around like confetti. =) It’s not only good for others, but the party always surrounds you. =)

  2. I’m so touched by this story on so many levels. The foster kids, the volunteers, the new bloggers… they all deserve kindness big and small. Thank you for the reminder to give. So often at this time of year, most of our prompts are to buy.

    • Money is actually the easiest thing for me to give away. I really strive to be more intentional with my attention, time, energy, thoughtfulness, words, encouragement, help, influence, connections. I’ve been working on a post about it. But it’s a hot mess. We shall see. There are 100 powerful ways to give that will make a huge impact on others.

  3. Thank you for this blog post. It touched my heart and brought a tear to my eye. Great reminder that we should give wherever and whenever we are able, no matter how small the gesture may seem. I am inspired!

    • Thanks so much Lori! Those small gestures might be just what someone needs. And often what we need most can’t be bought. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook needs because we think others have the same abundance as we do. Kind words are a great example. Never underestimate the power of writing affirming things to people who are discouraged and doubting. Teachers, new parents, new writers, artists, new employees. Any time we step out in a new role, there is fear and doubt. Just having someone show up and say, “You’re doing an exceptional job.” Or seeing things in others they might not see in themselves.

  4. This is fantastic. I’m so glad you are a growing voice in the FI community. The community can be so self centered and all about personal happiness. Thanks for sharing your insights 😉

  5. Wow, what a touching story. So sad, and yet just a little less so with the bears to offer a hug to those grieving children. BTW, we love CASA, too. A friend of mine volunteers there, and sent us a link they’ve set up on Amazon for folks to buy gifts for the kids (they’re shipped to a volunteer who delivers them to the kids). We had fun shopping for the kids online this past weekend.

    This is a particularly important time of they year to be generous, many folks struggle while others are oblivious to their pain. Thanks for the reminder. PS, sounds like you have a pretty good blogging friend, too 😉

    • I do have a pretty great blogging friend. Smart, kind and thoughtful. If only I could replicate him and assign one to each new writer. =) Should the world be so lucky, just think of all the great stories we would hear that might not otherwise be told. People from all corners would rise up and find their voice. It would be a great gift for sure. Thank you, friend.

  6. Wow, the bears ended up in the right place at the right time for sure. My girlfriend is a CASA volunteer. She’s not supposed to talk about her cases, but I can tell some kids’ circumstances make her sad. Thanks for an encouraging post, sad but uplifting, too.

    • CASA’s might be my favorite people on the Earth. If someone can’t foster or adopt, please be a CASA. And if they can’t be a CASA, please donate to CASA’s. It’s like $2000 to train and support a CASA volunteer for a year. I can’t imagine a better use of money. Thank her for me. I’m deeply indebted to our CASA. She saw our kids through placement after placement until they came to us. She holds pieces of their story I would never know otherwise. She loved the birth family, gave our kids a voice, and was a rock for us. She fought like hell for our kids. It’s a gift that can’t be measured. It’s hard and messy and in the thick of it. But a dedicated CASA can make all the difference for kids who feel so alone and unheard.

  7. Thank you for everything you do. You’re an inspiration to many, whether you know it or not.

    I lost my mother when I was 15, and although the enormity of the moment changes the course of a life forever, small acts of kindness can provide the support necessary to remain erect when the ground trembles.

    Big hug to you!

    • “When the ground trembles.” Those are true words. It is small acts of kindness. After our son passed away, someone sent me tea. It’s been five years, and I still remember that tea. And when my friend’s puppies died, I sent her tea. It keeps us afloat. A bit of love and thoughtfulness. Thank you for sharing that.

  8. Beautiful, and a message we all need to hear over and over again. There is no act of kindness too small. I just found my lost earmuffs today through a kind stranger, and several others who simply did the right thing by not stealing them… thanks for being a shining light and making the world a slightly better place 🙂

    • Thanks so much! It is something I need to hear over and over. Which is why I write it. =) Sometimes I need to write things I know are true to speak to my own heart.

  9. Small waves of change — that’s beautiful. So is the entire story.

    I can imagine how special a huge bear makes a kid feel, even if it’s just for a short while.

    We usually participate in a bicycle drive for a local kids charity this time of year. It’s totally grass roots and gets no government funding. We’re giving money this time because we’ll be away the one night they have the drive.

    I’d really like to meet that blogging friend of yours. Oh wait. I have!

  10. Wonderful post. About a month ago while on my run I noticed a young kid in the Section 8 housing area about a mile from my house trying to play basketball with a ball that had no air. I stopped and asked him if he needed a pump as I had one at home and he said the ball actually had a puncture. He seemed really sad and just the fact that he was out there still using a limp ball that wouldn’t even bounce led me to believe his family couldn’t afford a new one.

    So I finished my run home, grabbed my old basketball which is an official NBA model and still in great shape, and ran back to the court. Luckily he was still there, and I gave it to him. He couldn’t believe it, and the smile on his face made me happy for quite a while as well.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that story! The thing that is so cool about your story isn’t even that a kid got a new ball. And that probably isn’t what will stick with him either. It’s that someone saw him. Someone noticed. And cared! That alone is so powerful when people live in poverty. It’s so easy when you grow up in poverty to feel like an inconvenience, a problem to be managed, a person to be pitied, or that people just wish you didn’t exist because your presence is inconvenient. Thank you! Just for taking the time to ask if you could help.

  11. This is a lovely story and thank you for writing it. I want to thank school teachers and other adults who watch out for little kids. I was once that child whose teacher called adult protective services time and time again when she saw evidence of physical abuse and I knew SHE loved me. That caring literally saved my life because as that young girl I often thought I couldn’t be as bad as my foster parents said or else my teacher wouldn’t love me and protect me. My heart breaks for the younger me who had so few skills in understanding my situation but I grasped tightly onto the knowledge that someone loved me so maybe I was an okay person. Eventually I was moved to a safer home.

    So…”little” kindnesses are indeed life changing and life saving. You never know how desperately a child needs a friendly smile, encouragement or a hug. Thank you for doing what you do.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this Barb! It’s such a great example of small acts of love and thoughtfulness that leave a lasting impact. The other time of year that is high for kids being removed is when school starts. The pendulum always swings in how the government handles cases of abuse, but right now we are in a time when it takes about 10-20 separate reports of abuse before kids get removed from birth families. (Generally just one or two from foster families) I know so many people are scared to report because they fear that CPS will just come pull kids, but that is almost never the case. Often there were dozens of reports from lots of professionals. I always tell people, “Just keep calling. Every time you see something new or concerning, just keep calling.” Birth families are never happy about it, but it’s often what gets people the help they need to turn their life/situation around.

      Thank you for sharing your story. I know between the lines, there is a lot of pain in there. But I hope a few teachers, nurses and lunch ladies see this and are encouraged to show love with reporting concerning things.

  12. Thank you for sharing this touching post. It is always important to give back. Children are helpless and need our support. My Mother-in-law has fostered children over the years. It is an important network. Without foster parents, who knows where these children would be.

    • Thank you, Dave! Unfortunately, I do know where the kids would be. Group homes. And if they never end up being adopted, like about 20,000 don’t each year, they often end up homeless, addicts and/or in jail. The stats are tough. There will never be too many amazing foster/adoptive parents. Partly because each kid has certain needs and not every family is a great match (even if they are awesome!).

  13. Great story. It is amazing how difficult life can be and how small acts of kindness make a big difference. Our town is currently suffering post-fires. I was at dinner the other night and a man seemed quite depressed. Our waitress was being quite kind to him and when I asked her if everything was alright she told me that the man had lost his wife in the fires. Here we are with our lives turned upside down, but nothing like this poor man. Perspective is everything.

    The thing that most helped me post-fires were the pre-cooked hot meals given out by a local organization. This $5 to 10 gift truly alleviated stress in our lives at a crazy time. Small things matter. More so then big things most of the time because the small things can be easily repeated and in mass.

    Thanks for sharing the story. I always love reading your posts!

    • Thank you for sharing! That is a great example of small but high leverage gifts. A hot meal can be such a blessing. It meets a practical need and also lets us know that someone cares. From the person who donated the $10 to the volunteers who organized it all.

      After our kiddos came, a few very kind and thoughtful people dropped off hot meals for us. People think about it after you have a baby, but there are a lot of other life events that are disruptive and stressful.

  14. I absolutely love this. Not only that you’re talking about giving – which is great enough – but about doing it really well, in high-impact ways. And especially from that specific context (foster/adoption – kids who’ve been through the toughest things humanity has). I really appreciate you sharing this and encouraging others to love those around them. That’s what Christ’s birthday is all about.

    • Thanks so much FWP! “kids who’ve been through the toughest things humanity has” That is absolutely the truth! Having been in this area for almost 15 years, I’m almost never shocked but always heartbroken by what these kids have had to face. And I see the tremendous amount of work that has to be done by the child and so many professionals to unravel all that hurt and trauma. But that is the spirit of the Christain faith, beauty from ashes and the processes of making all things new. =)

  15. Beautiful, sad, touching, and inspiring – all at the same time. Thank you for sharing, Jillian.

    Just tonight, my wife and I talked about doing some small (to us) gifts of unexpected overpaying to some of the hard working street vendors we pass all the time here in Ecuador. We are going to buy some $.50 ice creams or other inexpensice products and hand over a $20 and say thank you. No doubt we will be doing it now.

    I appreciate the reminder of the importance of awareness and looking for everyday opportunities to share kindness and love.

    • Sometimes it’s the small everyday acts of kindness that give people hope. I remember when I was living in poverty and waiting tables. Every once in a while, someone would give me a $5 tip on a smaller bill. And I knew they were doing it to encourage me. And it always shifted something in my heart. Like maybe life won’t always be as hard as it is right now. With enough hard work, kindness and a few people to help me along the way, I wouldn’t be stuck forever.

  16. Jillian, this story is truly inspirational! Thanks for reminding us that it is not how much that is important, it is the act of doing something regardless of size that makes a difference.

    • Sometimes we never know how large those waves will be to other people. The things that have been the most high-impact in my life, were almost all small acts of kindness for the other person. But they made all the difference to me.