Christmas in the Community Through Volunteering

Creating a different kind of holiday tradition.
Volunteering has become a holiday tradition for Kay and Quinn Johnson of Edina.

On Christmas Day in 2013, Kay Johnson and her son, Nathan, and daughter, Quinn, shared a meal with more than 1,200 guests. Thanks to an annual Christmas Day event called the Miracle, put on by the CraftWorks Foundation, the Johnsons volunteered to serve area homeless and low-income families a Christmas dinner at Rock Bottom Brewery in downtown Minneapolis. The experience of giving back to the community sparked a new holiday tradition for the Johnson family and has created more than just memories.

A year before the Johnsons started volunteering at the Miracle event, Kay and her kids were sitting around on Christmas day talking about how they wanted to spend the day helping others. At the time, Nathan was a junior in high school and Quinn in eighth grade. They knew they wanted to do something different—something that would allow them to connect more with people.

“We’ve been involved in community service since the kids were little,” says Johnson. “We’ve helped pack food at food shelves and volunteered with Feed My Starving Children and enjoyed our time together. But this time, I wanted to choose an opportunity where my kids could interact directly with the people who needed the services.”

The CraftWorks Foundation is the charitable arm of CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, which includes Old Chicago and Rock Bottom Brewery. The organization was formed to help its team members with financial assistance during times of crisis, as well as to provide educational resources for personal and career advancement. CraftWorks goes even further into the communities they serve by hosting community strengthening activities, including the Miracle event, as well as other events hosted across the country.

During the Miracle community dinner celebrations, guests gather around tables and volunteers serve them a sit-down Christmas feast. While guests wait for their food, volunteers interact with the guest’s children to find out their interests and hobbies. Then the volunteer “elves” run down to the basement to assemble gift bags made specially for each child, which can include basketballs, board games, dolls, books, train sets, a variety of toys and even some bikes.

Over the years, the event has grown to include professional family photos and a visit with Santa, as well as crafts for kids to make and take home with them. As the event has grown, so has the number of volunteers, but Johnson says many families have been volunteering since the first event was held nearly 14 years ago.

Johnson believes volunteering and giving back alongside your kids teaches them the importance of helping others. She wanted to instill this value of stewardship and helping others in her kids, which she definitely has achieved. Nathan, now a junior at Indiana University, has carried on working with charities at the university and is involved in the IU Dance Marathon benefitting the Riley Hospital for Children in Indiana. Johnson and Quinn, now a junior at Edina High School, plan to volunteer again at the Miracle.

The Johnsons aren’t alone. Families across Edina are increasingly making volunteering a regular part of their lives. Whether it’s delivering meals to homebound individuals, packing food at a local food shelf, or participating in a run or walk to fight disease, families are spending their free time giving back to their community. For busy parents, volunteering is a great way to spend time together while teaching kids about compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude, and community responsibility. Children who volunteer are more likely to continue doing so as adults.

During this season of giving, perhaps even more families will take on the tradition of giving back. “Connecting with others helps us see a little different world,” says Johnson, “a world where even though we are different, we are all really the same—good people.”

Do Good
The following organizations are just a few of the many across the Twin Cities that offer a variety of volunteer options: