It all began with a Christmas tradition.
Each year the Carlsons and their extended family give all the children ornaments.
In 2008, Kristy Carlson and her sons Brandon Carlson, 10, and Aiden Carlson, 6, all of Omaha, decided to create their own ornaments using Lego building blocks.
“We found the Lego patterns on the Internet,” Kristy said. “We thought they were so unique it would be a good idea to sell them to raise money for charity.”
In 2009, the Carlsons started Ornaments 4 Charity, which sells homemade Lego ornaments and donates 100 percent of its profits to local charities where kids can directly benefit.
In their first year, they sold 240 ornaments. This year they hope to sell around 750.
Each year the Carlsons pick a new charity that benefits local children.
“A lot of the time people don’t realize the need for children’s items in shelters,” Kristy said.
Carlson said the money made from the ornaments can buy things like child-sized blankets, clothing, toothbrushes or bubble gum-flavored toothpaste.
This year Ornaments 4 Charity is working with the Siena-Francis House.
“It’s awesome and such a neat program,” said Tim Sully, development director at the Siena-Francis House. “I haven’t seen anything like it the 12 years I’ve been working here.”
The money Ornaments 4 Charity makes this year will be used to buy basic necessities — underwear, socks, mittens, hats and hygiene items — for children staying at the shelter.
“It’s so much work to build the ornaments and then package and sell them,” Sully said. “We’re happy they chose to include us this year.”
Last year, Ornaments 4 Charity raised $3,250 for the Stephen Center and other domestic violence shelters. The money bought 135 fleece blankets, 276 bottles of shampoo, 184 tubes of toothpaste and 692 toothbrushes.
Ornament-making has become a Carlson family affair as immediate relatives, including the boys’ dad, grandparents, aunts and uncles, often help. Even Brandon and Aiden’s classmates at Ezra Millard Elementary School have volunteered to help.
The Carlsons start making the Lego ornaments around March. Kristy said most ornaments take about 5 or 10 minutes each to make. The more intricate ones are glued together and take 20 to 25 minutes.
The experience has helped the family bond and teach Brandon and Aiden the importance of helping the less fortunate.
Kristy recalls touring the Stephen Center dorms last year with the boys. They saw about 60 beds, and each person had one trash bag to keep all their belongings in.
She asked Aiden if he thought he could fit all of his things at home in a single trash bag. Aiden replied with wide eyes, “No way, Mom!”
The boys’ dedication to Ornaments 4 Charity earned them a spread in the November/December issue of Scholastic News/Weekly Reader magazine. The magazine is distributed nationally to elementary schools. An article cites Brandon and Aiden as an example of how kids can give back to their communities.
Kristy said the boys didn’t get too star-struck when they were featured in the magazine.
The boys simply said of their ornament charity, “This is just what we do.”