monkeezIt’s the season of toys and giving, as the holidays are quickly approaching. December’s cheerful spirit is evident throughout the city, on social media, and in toy stores worldwide. Christmas lights are hanging everywhere, department stores are adorned with pops of red and green, and children are on their best behavior, hoping to fall on the right side of the naughty-or-nice list. Santa is taking last-minute requests from children who will surely receive their prizes for being good girls and boys all year long.

When I was a kid, my parents always took part in Operation Christmas Child, an organization that collects shoeboxes full of toys and non-perishable items to be given to children who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas gift to open, during this time of year. I loved getting to help put toys together to send to kids around the world, though I didn’t really understand exactly what it meant. Now, I see kids crying in department stores wanting their toys now, and I see lists of toys growing longer and longer. I’m all for it—‘tis the season—but I think it’s important that kids learn to receive with a grateful attitude, rather than an expectant one.

The older I get, the more bittersweet the holidays become. The music, ice-skating, tacky sweater parties, and family time are wonderful, but the receiving of gifts isn’t as satisfying as it was when Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets filled my Christmas wish list. It’s now apparent to me that so many kids spend Christmas without basic necessities, and certainly without gifts to open. I started researching major toy companies and realized that there are so many that donate to this cause in various ways.

In this balance of give and take, one program really stuck out to me this year, and that’s Monkeez Makes A Difference. MVP Group International Inc. combines philanthropy with play in its new educational, charitable program, Monkeez Makes a Difference. The thing I loved most about my parents donating shoeboxes full of toys was that I got to be included. They didn’t just write a check; they let me pick out toys for a girl my age. Being a part of the process made it more real to me, and it made me consider others at a very young age. Monkeez has the same idea! The innovative program empowers children to help others, and also teaches the importance of compassion and giving back through things that kids can get excited about!

The program includes adorable sock monkey characters, online games, real-life Do Good challenges designed to prevent bullying, a Monkeez Runner app, and a 10 percent donation on each child’s behalf to one of three nationally renowned charities of his or her choice. Kids are able to give and receive at the same time, win-win! There are more than 100 knit and plush characters in multiple sizes to choose from, each featuring a unique name and personality, as well as magnets in their hands and feet for hugging and playing. Characters include monkeys, owls, bears, lions, dogs, cats, pigs, cows, octopuses, panda bears, kangaroos, turtles, koalas, alligators, hedgehogs, elephants, hippos, zebras, frogs, bunnies, raccoons, penguins, parrots, polar bears, and flamingos.

Each character comes with a unique online game activation code on the tag. With an adult’s help, children follow the instructions on the tag and visit When they enter the code, they will be able to watch videos about each charity partner, including Alex’s Lemonade Stand FoundationSamaritan’s Purse, and Best Friends Animal Society. Children can select which charity they would like to contribute to, and the Monkeez program donates 10 percent of the wholesale cost. Children can revisit as many times as they’d like to play educational games and learn more about what they can do to help others. I think this is phenomenal, and I love that children are able to stay engaged with the program year-round.

Qualifying organizations can apply for a Lucky Dip box, from Hasbro, that contains a selection of Hasbro toys and games. Applications are taken during Hasbro’s donating year, which runs from January 21 to November 12. Qualified organizations may also request toys up to two times per calendar year from Mattel, for a maximum of 400 toys per agency per year. The majority of donation packages include assorted Mattel toys for boys and girls. An assortment typically consists of two to three types of toys. Gifts360, a leading nonprofit organization in the field of product philanthropy, administers the Mattel Toy Donation Program domestically and the National Children’s Hospitals Mattel Toy Donation Program.

More than $1 million in Peaceable Kingdom sticker sets and $1.7 million in Pillow Pets were donated by the manufacturers during TIF’s Toys Across America campaign, which brought playthings to kids in need in every state nationwide on August 1. These companies are few of many that make a special effort to give back, and I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to realize how lucky they are, and also to give as well as receive.

Do Good cards are available through Monkeez Makes A Difference for kids who want to contribute at the local level at home, in school, and in their communities.  The cards are affordable and available in five different packs. Each set contains challenges that consist of simple tasks, mostly focused on anti-bully thinking. When kids complete a challenge and talk about it with their parents, they receive the trading card to be redeemed online. Kids will then choose a charity partner to donate 10 percent, and will receive incentives for helping others.

For more commentary from Kara, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!