These days, so many of us are feeling like we want to do something to address the inequalities, injustice, and heartbreak we see in the world and our communities. We are looking for concrete ways to make an impact, to do something — anything — for those who are in need or struggling.
I don’t know about you, but I feel a strong tug to get my children involved. This past Christmas, after I did my annual cleaning out of their closets, I showed my kids the stuff I’d found that they no longer played with, and I told them to make three piles: a pile of stuff they absolutely could not part with; a pile of stuff they wanted to give away to family or friends; and a pile of stuff they wanted to donate to children in need.
We had been talking about the fact that not every child has the privilege of being showered with gifts for the holidays. When I told my youngest that some children may not even get presents at all, his jaw dropped to the floor. And when it came time to decide what to do with all his extra toys, he decided to donate them all to Goodwill. My older son did the same.
I was proud of the way my kids had chosen to give, and for the lessons it taught them, but I realized we have to do more, much more. So I brainstormed a list of simple things we can do to give back to our communities:
1. Donate meals.
Hunger and food poverty is something you can easily explain to your kids. And there are easy actions you can take to help. You can grocery shop together, and then go to Feeding America to find your local food bank for donation. Remember that homeless shelters and food banks don’t just need food during the holidays. It’s important to donate during the off-seasons to fill in the gaps.
2. Set up a “Blessing Box” outside your home.
This past October, Maggie Ballard and her son Paxton set up a “blessing box” in their front yard, which they filled with free food and hygiene products. As Huffington Post reports, the mother and son placed a sign on the door that read, “Take a blessing when you need one. Leave a blessing when you can.” And that is just what people are doing. What an awesome idea, and a great way to give back to your community!
Visit the local mosque with your children to show support and solidarity.
More than ever, our Muslim brothers and sisters need to know that we stand with them, support them, and have their backs. Last Christmas, after visiting his local mosque, my friend Christine’s 10-year-old son decided to donate to the mosque for Christmas. What happened next was an amazing exchange of love (and gifts) between her son and another family from the mosque. You can read the rest of the totally inspiring story here.
Volunteer at a nursing home in your community.
In high school, I volunteered at the local nursing home. I was usually the youngest one there, and the residents would totally light up when I walked in. And if young children came in, forget it — even the residents with severe dementia or Alzheimer’s were remarkably moved by the bright, incredible energy of the kids. Often, a nursing home will pair you up with a particular resident so that you can form a bond with them.
Donate your children’s old clothes and toys to a local children’s hospital.
Probably the easiest thing to do with old clothes and toys is to donate to Goodwill or another charity organization. But dropping them off at a children’s hospital has the added dimension of bringing good cheer and happiness to the kids there. It can be uncomfortable for our kids to see some of the sickness and despair that is present at hospitals, but when they see how much their smiles and gifts make a difference, it will be worth it, and they will learn and grow because of the experience.
Clean up your neighborhood or local parks.
Next time you go to the park, take a trash bag and spend a few minutes cleaning it up with your kids. This will be especially appropriate in the weeks after winter, when park spaces tend to get less TLC. Heck, while you’re at it, organize a flower planting event to get ready for spring. The kids will love the extra opportunity to get their hands in the dirt and beautify the local spaces around them.
In the winter months, donate warm clothing to local shelters.
It’s astonishing how much our kids grow, and it’s often likely that you’ll have some warm clothing that needs a new home. Donate, donate, donate. When I think of a young child not having warm enough clothes on these bitter cold winter days, I am heartbroken. But there are concrete things we can do to help. Click here to find your local homeless shelter.
Create care packages and thank-you cards for local service people in your community.
Our firemen, police officers, paramedics, and other Good Samaritans don’t get nearly all the accolades they deserve. So bake them some cookies, send them some adorable kid-created art, and write some notes of thanks. Then deliver them by hand. Your kids will be thrilled to meet these real-life heroes (the feeling will be mutual!).
Hold a fundraiser for charity.
Last summer, my kids had a blast hosting lemonade stands in the front yard. They were pretty excited about their profits too — and they made more than a few bucks! This coming summer, I’m going to encourage them to take it up a notch, and donate a portion of their earnings to nonprofits like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. This will also give us an opportunity to talk about what these organizations do, and why they are vitally important right now.
Find out what a local women’s shelter needs, gather materials, and donate.
According to GreenDoors.org, each day, about 200,000 children are living without a home. The majority of homeless families (84%) are headed by mothers, many of whom were driven out of their homes by domestic or sexual abusers. Women’s shelter’s truly are safe havens for these women and children, and can really help to protect them, and get them back on their feet. These shelters are always in need of supplies — from diapers, baby food, feminine hygiene products, clothes, toys, and more. Click here for a directory of women’s shelters, and how to donate.
This list isn’t an exhaustive one, not by any means. Once I started brainstorming, I realized that there are actually so many ways you can get your kids involved in their communities. And if you happen to feel overwhelmed by all the choices, pick one or two to concentrate on and go from there. Every little thing makes a difference, large or small. The idea is for us all to get involved, and teach our children that there is a world out there beyond their four walls, and it is everyone’s responsibility to make it a better place.