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.”

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.