Valentine’s Day is a sweet opportunity for kids to share love and kindness with friends and family. It’s a day filled with hearts, flowers, and candy and serves as a bright spot during the long winter months, especially this year. Like most holidays, it has been commercialized over the years, with store shelves filling with boxes of chocolate, cards, and gifts starting in early January. Americans will spend over $21 billion dollars celebrating Valentine’s Day this month.  Not surprisingly, most people (73% of those surveyed) feel it is even more important to celebrate the holiday this year as we struggle to find happy moments in the midst of the ongoing pandemic. 

Showering love and affection on our children, partners, and loved ones is so important, but I’d like to suggest that we re-focus our Valentine’s Day celebrations just a bit. We can make our kids feel special while also giving them the opportunity to spread the joy of the holiday to others. We can move away from spending lots of money on gifts that people don’t really need and flowers that will end up in a landfill while helping kids flex their “empathy” muscles and experience the warm, wonderful feelings that come from helping and caring for others. 

Here are a few ways to spread the love of Valentine’s Day to those who might be struggling in your own community and around the country.

1. Create Cozy Nights for Kids in Need: Donate new pajama’s to children who are homeless, in foster care, or living in domestic violence shelters in your community. The Pajama Program is a national nonprofit organization that promotes and supports a comforting bedtime routine and healthy sleep for children facing adversity. Since 2001, they have provided over 7 million cozy pajamas and inspiring storybooks to children, as well as critical resources for parents & caregivers to support children at bedtime.  The Pajama Program provides resources to help you host a donation drive, and identifies a local organization that will accept your donations.  Financial donations are also always welcome.  You can donate to the Pajama Program or to a similar organization, Family-to-Family, which provides new pajamas, a soft blanket, and a cuddly stuffed toy to children living in poverty.

2. Give Warmth & Snuggles to a Child in Foster Care: On any given day, there are more than 400,000 children living in foster care in the United States. Together Rising is a national nonprofit working to transform the way children experience foster care.  Around Valentines Day, they spread love and hope by giving 500 Snuggle Kits, which include a stuffed bear and soft blanket, to children in foster care.  Through the buy one/give one program, you can purchase a Snuggle Kit for a special child in your life, and they will give one to a child entering foster care (or you can donate both kits). 

3. Connect with an Isolated Senior: Create colorful, simple valentines with messages of friendship, kindness, and support and deliver them to a local nursing home or senior outreach program. You can also bundle up a stack of letters and send them to Love For Our Elders or Letters Against Isolation.  Both websites provide more detailed instructions and information.

4. Give Dignity & Beauty to Women in Crisis: With just a few small toiletry and beauty items purchased at a dollar store, you can create beauty bags for women living in homeless or domestic violence shelters in your community. Items can include lipstick or lip balm, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste, fuzzy socks, hand lotion, or soap. You can use a gallon zip lock bag, or a small paper gift bag decorated with stickers. Be sure to include a cheerful note wishing the recipient a Happy Valentine’s Day and reminding her that she is beautiful.  

5. Create Valentines for Our Veterans: Our veterans and active-duty military often spend holidays alone or far from loved ones, and receiving a cheerful message from your family can brighten their day immeasurably. Soldiers Angels is a military support organization with a simple motto: May no soldier go unloved.  You and your kids can create cheerful valentines expressing love and support, and mail them (along with a $1 donation per card) to Soldiers Angels.  The $1 donation helps to defer the cost of packaging boxes of valentines and sending them to deployed troops around the world and VA hospitals here in the United States.  

6. Recycle Those Flowers: Have you ever wondered what happens to all of the Valentine’s flowers that remain unsold at the end of the day on February 14th? There are organizations around the country that collect and repurpose floral arrangements, keeping them from landfills and providing cheerful bouquets for seniors in nursing homes and hospitalized children. Some examples include Bouquets of Kindness, Random Acts of Flowers, and the Reflower Project. Through a quick internet search, you might find one of these organizations in your own community.

7. Notice the Heroes All around You: Encourage your kids to write notes of gratitude to all of the many people who keep them safe, teach, coach, and help them, every day.  From the crossing guard or security officer at school, the classroom teacher (whether virtual or in-person), the doorman or maintenance worker in your apartment building, the postal carrier or delivery person—anyone who interacts with your child on a daily basis would be delighted to receive a heart-shaped note, a small box of candy or even a sticky note with a few scribbled words of appreciation. Never underestimate how a kind word or action from you and your kids can change someone’s day and make them feel loved, which is, after all, the purpose and power of Valentine’s Day.