Virtual Costa Rica: Keep vulnerable kids entertained without leaving your house

There are lots of amazing online lessons, stories and songs for kids these days, but there’s no substitute for paper to draw on, crayons, yarn, and all the other odds and ends that parents like me are repurposing for entertainment during these quiet days. In houses with fewer resources, the situation for parents is much tougher.

Nonprofit leader Gail Nystrom, founder of the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation, has a great idea for how people can benefit kids such as her more than 800 beneficiaries in the incredible binational (Nicaraguan-Costa Rican) community of La Carpio, in western San José: pull together a “rainy day box” of any fun stuff you can spare and little notes to brighten the day of a child who’s cooped up inside. Local conditions and restrictions permitting, you can drop it off or send it to an organization that can distribute it to local families.

Here’s how Gail describes it: “Imagine yourself as a mother, living in a two room shack. You barely have money to buy rice for your three kids to eat. You are then told not to leave the house because of a deadly disease. You have water only two hours a day. The only entertainment your kids have is the TV. You have to keep them inside for two weeks. I fear that this exact scenario has the potential for some abusive treatment of the kids. They are bored, tired, hungry and cranky. So is mom.”

Gail requests “shoe boxes filled with things to do…crayons, paper, old Christmas cards, markers, glue, books, coloring books, scissors, little puzzles, activity books, beads to make necklace, small scraps of fabric. Sequins, popsicle sticks, cotton… and little messages to read every day… this is a great project for Virtual Volunteers. Even if you cannot come to work with the kids, you can go through your desk drawers and organize the materials listed above and give us a call. Our Driver, Pedro Roa, is available to come to pick up your boxes. Please help us to keep kids safer during this very strained time.”

Of course, there’s a lot to consider here. First of all, I usually urge people to donate money rather than objects since that’s often what nonprofits need most; too often, donation drives like this turn into a chance for people to clean house and get rid of things in not-great condition, or create more work for overburdened nonprofits. However, these are extraordinary times when it really might be more useful to get a box of great supplies, than money that can’t be immediately spent in a store because of the virus. And lots of us have had our own budgets slashed during the crisis. Still, everything we include needs to be in great condition, scrupulously cleaned and carefully packed, and should only go to a person or organization that actually wants it and can put it to use – none of us wants to create additional burdens or tasks right now.

If you want to collaborate with Gail, you can donate money here or, if you’re in Costa Rica and would like to donate a “rainy day box,” you can message Gail via WhatsApp at 8390-4192 – the Foundation driver is available to pick up boxes when possible. If you have done something like this or found other ingenious ways to connect with kids where you are, let me know!

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! If you want to learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section, updated regularly – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.

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