Scouts cancel troop gift exchange, spend money on needy families instead


In 2013, the Boy Scouts of Troop 485 in Franklin Square, N.Y., were getting ready for their troop’s annual gift exchange when something magical happened.

In prior years, it went like this: Scouts brought a gift to the designated troop meeting. They put all the gifts — each worth no more than $15 — into a pile and swapped them. Everybody went home with something.

But in 2013, one of the Scouts had a better idea. Instead of exchanging gifts within the troop, why not use that money to shop for a local family who might otherwise get nothing at Christmas?

“All of the Scouts were on board,” remembers assistant Scoutmaster Debra Hansen.


Shopping for others

One of the leaders knew of an adopt-a-family program that provides clothing and toys to members of the community. These families might not have a Christmas — perhaps because of a parent losing his or her job or because of an illness.

The leader used that connection to find a needy family.

Each Scout received a card that included an item the family needed or wanted, as well as details on clothing sizes or favorite kinds of toys.

And off to Target they went — in groups of three or four with a couple of adults trailing several steps behind.

The Scouts took that same $15 they would’ve spent on the gift exchange and used it to fund the purchases.

“They quickly learned that they should search out sales and look for quality,” Hansen says. “And sometimes, to make the purchase that they want, they might have to pool funds.”


Helping others

Troop 485 has adopted a family every Christmas since — including this year. Scouts who can’t attend the shopping trip make sure to send their $15 anyway.

One of Hansen’s favorite moments was when the Scouts bought a baseball glove for a young boy.

“After getting to the cars, someone mentioned that the boy might not have a ball, so what good is a glove?” Hansen says. “They emptied their pockets and went back inside to purchase a ball.”

Most years, the Scouts get together to wrap everything as a group. A leader arranges for the delivery of the items.

The Scouts and leaders never learn the identity of the family receiving the gifts; it’s the ultimate good turn.

“It has been a lot of fun for our Scouts,” Hansen says. “It has taught them a lot. It has made them more aware. And they have learned what sales tax is — something in the beginning they didn’t count on.”


  1. Our Troop has been adopting a family for the past 20+ years. Just like this troop the scouts asked if they could adopt a family instead of doing a gift exchange.

    Each patrol adopts a child and gets them at least 3 gifts: a gift for the heart…a toy(s), a gift for the mind…books and a gift for the body…a sweater or sweatshirt. The adults take care of the parent(s) with several gifts each as well. Everyone attending the party brings canned goods for their pantry and we also give them a gift card to help with their Christmas Dinner or what ever they need.

    Every year it’s heartwarming to hear from the parents taking the scouts shopping that their scout or another Scout reached into his own pocket to give even more.

    We always invite the family to our Holiday Party and if the come we present them with their gifts or if they can’t come we play Santa’s Elves and take the gifts to them.

    This act of giving has had many of our scouts ask not to receive gifts each Christmas but instead be able to give to those less fortunate.

  2. Great article! The troop where I have the honor of serving as Scoutmaster, partnering with our associated Venturing Crew, has a tradition of sponsoring a family with a Christmas basket each year as well.

    Our chartering organization (a church) partners with the Salvation Army each year to sponsor about 75 of the area families that the S.A. had sign up for their angel tree program. Normally what the S.A. does is provide vouchers to each family to pick up enough food for a Christmas dinner at a local grocery store, and then through the Angel Tree program asks individuals to sponsor a single child purchasing gifts and bringing them down to the S.A. location to be distributed. Our church instead just takes the entire family and provides the food to have a Christmas dinner while asking members of the congregation or other groups within the church (like the Scouts) to sponsor a family and provide gifts for all of the kids, then (if they are able to do so), deliver the food and gifts to the family their family on the Saturday before Christmas (or if that’s Christmas eve like this year the Saturday prior). Our troop assists in this effort in two ways.

    First, we sponsor one of the families, and spend the troop meeting before the delivery date at the store buying gifts for all the kids and adults in the family, and then delivering those gifts with the food basket on the delivery date.

    The second way we help is by being “elves” for the group running the project at the church the day of delivery. There are 75 boxes of food set up at the church and as other people who have sponsored families come to pick up the food and deliver it, we help load the boxes of food into their vehicles. Also groups of Scouts and adults will go out and help deliver food baskets to those that are single adults or adult couples without children who don’t get sponsored by a member of the church’s congregation, or to families where the sponsor purchased the gifts and dropped them off at the church but cannot deliver them.

    We hold a lock-in at the church the night before delivery day and the SPL provides ILST training if it is needed, then they watch movies, play games, have midnight pizza and tacos, wrap the gifts for our sponsored family and hold our own “Secret Santa” gift exchange. In the morning we have breakfast, clean up and head down to the entry area to be elves for a few hours. One of our favorite events of the year!

  3. This is a wonderful thing. The boys know it’s not all about them. I look forward to being a part each year – Scout parent

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