Hot Cocoa for a Cause

If you have been following along on Instagram the past few weeks, you have seen me post and talk about the hot cocoa stand my kids did last year to earn money they could use to buy toys for those in need. It was an amazing experience and one we are going to make a tradition.

I decided to share all the details about it in hopes that it might inspire some of you to set up a hot cocoa stand of your own to raise money for charity. I have loved the response I have seen on Instagram and I hope this can be a guide for you to use while you prepare and set up one of your own.

How did it start?

Let me first give you a little backstory and then we’ll get into all the details. I’ll share some free signs and games you can use for your toy and hot cocoa stand, too.

Last year while my kids and I were reading The Friends magazine, we came across a story of a boy that earned money to buy a toy for someone in need by setting up a hot cocoa stand. After a few years of trying different ways of helping others during the holidays, we came across that special way for our family to serve together. This is what I had been searching for!

I decided to have the kids make homemade toys to sell along with the hot cocoa to make them work harder for the money. You hear so much these days about how our generation is raising entitled children who expect everything to be handed to them. These are not the kind of people I want to raise and send out into the world. I wanted my kids to invest a lot of their time and talents into something that, in the end, would benefit someone else instead of themselves. I also wanted a project that would require the whole family to work together and spend more quality time with each other. The hot cocoa stand was the answer. It allowed us to make a bigger impact than we normally would have been capable of on a small income. We gathered some supplies and got right to work. It was the perfect way to start the holiday season.

If this sounds like the answer to what your family has been missing during the Christmas season, I invite you to join us by hosting a hot cocoa stand of your own this year. Let me tell you all my tips and tricks for making it a success.

Prepare your kids

When I first told my kids (ages 4,4 and 2) about my idea for them to make toys and sell them, they loved it. They thought they were going to earn a ton of money to buy whatever they wanted. Umm… not quite. We had some expectations to clear up first, and I’m glad we did.

Each day as we sat down to make toys I would ask them what they were going to do with all of these toys. They would tell me that they were going to give them to their friends, or sell them to people at the cocoa stand. When I would ask what they were going to do with the money they earned from selling the toys they would get a big smile and tell me they were going to buy toys. Then I would ask them who they were buying toys for, and they would shout “Us!” Wrong answer, kiddos.

I’m glad we spent time working on this hot cocoa stand for a few weeks so that I could have all that time to continually review with them again and again what our purpose was. We talked about how some kids didn’t have toys, some just wanted new coats, and some didn’t even have homes. This was the first time they finally started to put the pieces together of how blessed they were in this life, and that they had the power and duty to help others.

Make the process of creating toys and games a fun experience. We worked on one project each day so the kids didn’t feel burned out. Every day they would wake up and be so excited to see what the “toy of the day” was.

I would have the table all prepped and ready for them to start working. We listened to Christmas music and I also filmed them making toys. They thought it was so fun to teach how to make each item on a movie. Almost like their own little YouTube channel.

ADVERTISING

I know it can be hard to share and talk about a service project you and your family are doing. It’s scary wondering how people are going to take it and if it’s going to come across self-righteous. I struggle with this. It’s not something I’m comfortable sharing, but if we wanted to provide a better Christmas for others, we needed people to come to our hot cocoa stand, right? I had to advertise and put ourselves out there. If it was just me selling something, I probably wouldn’t have spread the news like I did, but it was my kids who had worked so hard and were so eager to see this succeed too. I had to do all that I could to support them.

This meant I posted about it on Instagram and our neighborhood Facebook page. I let friends and family know what the kids had been working on and when the hot cocoa stand would be open. We posted signs along the streets with arrows giving directions to the hot cocoa stand, similar to what you would do for a yard sale. The boys are in kindergarten now and will get to take flyers to their classmates and friends on the bus inviting them to come to the hot cocoa stand.

Free Hot Cocoa for a Cause Kit

And now, here I am blogging about the whole experience to hopefully make a bigger impact. Your interest from my posts on Instagram sparked an idea to provide a free kit with signs and some game templates for you to download and print to help make your hot cocoa stand a success. If you have found this helpful, please share and help us make an even bigger difference in the lives of those who are suffering and without this season.

The more people we can get involved the better. My kids may have made the toys and set up the stand, but without other people generously stopping, purchasing items and making cash donations, they wouldn’t have been able to help as many people as they did. It takes a village to serve each other and I was so grateful for our village that day. Together we raised almost $200 in those 2 hours. We were thrilled!

Free kit includes:

  • Advertising street signs
  • Donation sign
  • Two styles of flyers
  • Thank you tags
  • Don’t Eat Pete game
  • Santa Countdown – coloring page and colored picture

PICK A CHARITY

When picking a charity there are a few things to think about.

  1. What are their deadlines for donations?
    You obviously don’t want to have your hot cocoa stand after they’re no longer accepting donations. We had ours the middle of the month last year and almost learned this the hard way. We barely made the Toys for Tots deadline on their last day. Most other charities had already stopped accepting physical donations and were preparing to deliver them.
  2. Can you cover the remaining cost to provide Christmas to a family if your hot cocoa stand doesn’t raise as much money as planned?
    If you are going to select a Sub for Santa family or pick a name off the Angel Tree or another charity like that, can you still afford to provide Christmas for them if your sales aren’t as high as you had hoped? If your answer is no, find a different charity, such as Toys for Tots, where you can donate whatever you have and they will find a place for it.

HOT COCOA

I was nervous about how we were going to be able to keep the hot cocoa warm outside in the cold weather, but it all worked out surprisingly well. Here’s how we did it.

Supplied Needed:

  • 5 gallon cooler
  • hot cocoa mix
  • insulated cups and lids — I’m not sure if these are the exact ones I used last year, but they are close. I bought mine at Costco and loved that they were plain white.
  • straws
  • mints or creamers if you do a hot cocoa bar with toppings.

Directions:

We boiled large pots of water on the stove and poured them into the 5 gallon jug. Then we mixed in the hot cocoa with a giant spoon. The insulated cooler kept the hot cocoa warm for 2 hours. It was incredibly hot at the beginning of the hot cocoa stand, so make sure you and your customers are careful.

If want to have different flavors of hot cocoa, have some toppings such at mini candy canes, creamers and whipped cream. And remember, toppings are extra. ;) People won’t mind because it’s going to a good cause.

TOYS

Children’s handmade toys are absolutely adorable… to their moms. There, I said it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love arts and crafts made by kids. I have a house full that I cherish, but will other people want to spend money on crafts your kids made? They will most likely be kind and buy one or two, but would be more likely to buy a kit of the craft to take home and have their own children make.

We selected toys and games our kids could make, but wouldn’t look like a child made it. That meant if we painted something, it was all one color. We used molds when shaping things, and packaged items with care. Reese, who was two at the time, helped with every single project and they all looked like quality items. I tried to limit my involvement to just prep work, and not the actual creation of each item. That part was left to the kids and they excelled. It was important for me to have the kids do most of the work. This was their project. I was just there to help and support when needed.

I have a few ideas for toys and games your kids can make that I’ll share below. You can also visit a Pinterest board I set up with more ideas.

Journals/Notebooks

I let my kids sort through all my paper stash and select the papers they wanted to use in notebooks. We mixed pattern paper with printer paper. I trimmed the paper down to size and then they put the papers in the order they wanted. After each notebook was organized, I folded the papers in half and punched the wholes for the binding. The boys then sewed the books together using this book binding tutorial. Reese was a little too small to sew the books, so she measured and cut the string. There was a job for everyone and each one was important.

Tic-Tac-Toe

Do you have a stash of cotton muslin bags? I do and I love it. They come in all sizes and are so handy to have on hand. I drew a tic-tac-toe board on the outside of the bag using a Sharpie. My kids searched the backyard for small rocks that they washed and painted. We put 5 of each color of rock in a bag and that was it. A fun tic-tac-toe game for kids to take with them on the go. You can also use pom-poms, buttons, plastic jewels and more for the markers.

Hot Cocoa Mix

This is such an easy one for kids. We put plastic triangle bags inside cups to help hold them upright. Then the kids passed them down the line as each one took a turn putting their ingredients in the bag. First hot cocoa, then crushed candy canes, and finally marshmallows. We used clear hair elastics to close them tight and then tied some string around to make it look pretty.

Bath Bombs

These were a hit at the hot cocoa stand. They are a great gift idea and stocking stuffer for all ages so they went fast. You can put little toy prices in the middle for younger kids to enjoy. I didn’t love the recipe we used last year because it was hard to mold, so I’m not posting it here. There are a ton of recipes out there though, so try some out and see what works for you.

 Matching Game

We used the cotton muslin bags again for this game along with some wood discs and stickers. I divided out the stickers for each game. 6 different stickers, 2 of each one -12 stickers and discs total. The kids put the stickers on each wooden disk. You could also apply temporary tattoos to the discs like I did here.

Don’t Eat Pete

This game is a huge favorite at our house. Kids of all ages can play. You can search online for Don’t Eat Pete games and find a ton, but I wanted one that the kids could make and sell. I made a blank board for the kids to put stickers on. Each sticker must be different. After the stickers were on, we laminated each game and attached a bag of candy. I included the the file in the free kit for you to download and use at your hot cocoa stand.

PRICING

When setting your prices, remember that this is a hot cocoa stand for people passing by. They are most likely going to spend their change or what little cash they have on hand, so don’t get too carried away with the products you make to sell. With that in mind, card readers are easy to get and might make a difference in what your hot cocoa stand can earn. The convenience of running a credit card at your stand would be very helpful for some.

We kept most of our items priced at $10 or lower, with the exception of a few weaving kits that were $13. Our hot cocoa was $.50 per cup so that a mom stopping could afford to get a hot chocolate for a car full of kids.

We had a few smaller items like packs of stickers and scratch cards that were a quarter or $.50. The rest of the toys were mostly $1-$5. I hope that was somewhat helpful.

People are so kind. Just about everyone would tell my kids to keep the change. We had a few neighbors give my boys a $5 bill for 2 cups of hot chocolate. We also had a jar with a lid on the stand where donations could go for those feeling extra generous.

BUILDING A STAND

Building a stand is completely unnecessary, but I love to decorate and go all out for any event so we made one. I LOVE it so much! I have used it all year long with other parties and it’s perfect. We used some pallets that our neighbors had leftover from laying sod in their yard. I love the wide planks on the front. If you don’t want to go through all the work of building a wood stand, a folding table with some chairs works just as great. :)

BUYING THE GIFTS

I’ll be honest, even after all the prepping I did that we would be buying presents for others kids, I was worried we would get to the store and my kids would not be on board and would just want the toys for themselves. I was completely wrong. They were amazing. They were so happy going through the isles picking out toys and talking about the kinds of kids they thought each one would be perfect for. I laughed when they were surprised at how quickly their money was spent. I feel that way all the time.

They were so proud handing the money to the cashier and paying for all of those toys themselves. That’s stuff grown-ups do and they were loving the responsibility.

The thing I love so much about this project was that it brought our family together with more quality time and my children learned some big lessons. You don’t have to go all out and make handmade toys, a wood stand and decorations. A simple table and jug of hot chocolate will work too. And if you don’t have the time or resources to set up a hot cocoa stand of your own, please support one that you may drive by. It takes baths sides and everyone working together to help those in need.

** If you host a hot cocoa stand with your family or friends, I would love to here about it and see pictures. You can email me through the contact page or send me a message on Instagram. #hotcocoaforacause

Thank you so much, and have Merry Christmas!

hot cocoa for a cause helping kids raise money for charity at Christmas #christmas #hotcocoastand