Dried Beans: Every Child’s Dream Christmas Gift

Dried beans or rice may not be your children's dream gift, but you can make a lasting impression on them by beginning with this little lesson

My dad was gone and my mom was just trying to keep body and soul together for us kids. With a minuscule income and in an era before food stamps and other types of support, my mom really had to scrap just to put food on the table.

One of the memories my brother, Brian, and I have is going with my mom to wait in line for what was called “surplus food.” It was pretty much how it sounds. The government would send food items to “hand-out” locations. Those families who needed this kind of help lined up each week for whatever might be available. We were one of those families.

It was all very basic foods like rice. Sometimes there was canned “chipped beef.” Yummmmm. And, we could always count on a large bag of dried beans. Mom used them in all kinds of meals. But, our most vivid memory of dried beans was when we got them for a Christmas present.

No, it wasn’t what we asked Santa for and, of course, hardly a dream gift. Mom had cut square pieces of cloth, sewn two together on three sides, filled them with dry beans and sewn them shut. And, we had fun with them. We played catch. We threw them to see who could come closest to a target. Sometimes we used each other for targets and the “war” was on.

Brian and I reminisced recently about the bean bags: We think our mom was not only doing the best she could, she was also making a point. We try not to ever lose track of the lesson she taught us:

There are children in our communities who will not be getting a smart tablet, video game or much of anything else. And, you and I know that there are children in this world who would be glad for a bean bag Christmas. Further, we know through ministries like Compassion and World Vision that there are children so hungry that they would open the bean bags and eat the beans.

Dried beans or rice may not be your children's dream gift, but you can make a lasting impression on them by beginning with this little lesson...

The lesson here is not to feel guilty about the blessings we have. The lesson is that we must never forget those who have far less. And, to honor the Christ Child, we can in His Name act on our remembering the poor. Here’s a suggestion:

Wrap up some uncooked rice and let it be the first gift family members open. You can answer the what-in-the-world look you receive by asking: “Not your dream gift?” Then, use it as a teaching moment and to share something you as a family are going to do about poverty and hunger. The possibilities are almost endless: Take food to a food pantry. Help distribute it at the food pantry. Support and/or serve at a homeless shelter. Give to a Compassion like ministry that can take your cash, check or credit card donation and work life-saving wonders in the lives of children near and far. Whatever you do, you will be pointing your family to others and to the Savior.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne … “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world …
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? … “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:31, 34, 37, 40 (NLT)

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  1. Michele Morin says:

    So thankful that God has taken those hardscrabble days into his loving hands and made beauty of them in your life. I also have memories of “surplus” food. God is good, and everything He gives is so completely SURPLUS – beyond all we could ask or think.
    Michele Morin recently posted…Every Story Whispers His NameMy Profile

    • Blake Wolf says:

      Michele, I love the way you connect “SURPLUS” to God’s gracious provision. Beautiful. Thank you!

  2. Mary Dolan Flaherty says:

    Blake, it’s always so nice to see the other half on my friends’ blogs. I’m still waiting for my husband to write a guest post. I suppose when he has something to say, he’ll agree. He’s a man of few words…well, even fewer than the average man.

    I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for you as a child, being in such need. But sometimes, the only way we truly understand need is to be in need ourselves.

    My son used to love to play with trucks as a kid, and I bought him different dried beans to use as gravel. He loved it. Didn’t like eating them so much. Now, he plays with much bigger trucks and real gravel.

    This year, some friends are in need. Their house is in foreclosure, they both are out of work (he’s retired and lost his retirement income), she is out of work due to a work-related injury, and he has been to the ER twice in two weeks-once for blood clots, and the “C” word is a real possibility, and again yesterday with a series of strokes. I feel helpless except to provide support, a few meals, and prayer. And I look at all the stupid gifts on the floor as I’m wrapping, and think that we have no idea how truly blessed we are. Sometimes, I wish I could just tell everyone, “No gifts this year. I’m taking what I’d spend on everyone and giving it away to someone who truly needs it.”

    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring post today. Blessed Christmas to you and Deb.
    Mary Dolan Flaherty recently posted…My Return to TackyMy Profile

    • Blake Wolf says:

      Mary, thank you. You made me smile with your “bigger trucks and real gravel” comment about your son. And, you touched my heart by sharing what your friends are going through. I know your support, meals and prayers bless them greatly.

    • Blake Wolf says:

      Amanda, thank you for blessing me with your encouraging words. I am deeply grateful that your too are inspired by my mom’s example. Thanks again!

  3. Wendy Johnson says:

    That is excellent. No judgement, just a way to teach and show little and not so little ones a way to appreciate what they have(or don’t have) and help others.

  4. Blake Wolf says:

    Wendy, thank you for your comment. God’s continued blessings be with you at Christmas and in the year ahead.

  5. Heather at Fearful to Fearless says:

    What a great story! I wish there were easier ways for me to take my kids to volunteer, but most places won’t let my 3 and 1 year old come to volunteer, and I can’t leave them home while I take the 5 and 6 year old. I know there must be something, but I haven’t found it yet, and our budget doesn’t allow for something like Compassion right now.
    Heather at Fearful to Fearless recently posted…5 Best Gluten-Free GiftsMy Profile

  6. Brian says:


    Love you so much! So well written! I had to read the story several times; so that I could read your words, clearly, without tears in my eyes. We were so blessed to have such a wonderful Christian Mother, and each other!

    God Bless and Merry Christmas to Deb, your family, and you!


  7. Mary Hill says:

    This post is so touching. I remember when we didn’t have decorations for our tree. We took the Christmas cards that we received in the mail to decorate the tree. I also was so thankful for my new pair of pants and pretty shirt that year. My gifts were few, but our family enjoyed a Christmas of love.

  8. Janet K says:

    Beautiful story, showing us how to make a little seem like so much more. Those bean bags also had your mom’s love in each one. A great lesson for us all.

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