Although we shouldn’t need a season, natural disasters, or traumatic events to prompt our charity, there’s never a better time than now to start a tradition that fosters humanity — and humility — with your children.
Beyond the immediate reactions to dip into our pocketbooks and share funds, there are ways to give that are better for teaching moments and a lasting memory. Generous donations however, can still be used as teaching moments when children are involved in picking the charity and delivery of the funds.
Many parents will see a catastrophe as an opportunity to help their children learn about charity, but there’s people across every community that are dealing with tragedy in their everyday life. There isn’t a way to group everyone into timely events, and we should always be aware of others in their time of need outside of these seasons of giving.
The following suggestions start small in the home and neighborhood, and can grow out into the community to be adapted for use outside of the holiday rush.
Charitable Holidays & Birthdays
The excitement of sharing with family and friends can be directed to the less fortunate in a variety of creative ways.
Ask your child how they’d feel about looking for a gift for a little boy or girl that won’t be receiving as many gifts as they will. Explain to them why their efforts can help Santa with delivering gifts to every child, and include them in the shopping experience. Depending on the charity, there are lists with children’s stories, and others that will just accept general donations.
Outside of the winter holiday season, there are annual celebrations that can be adapted to continue the tradition of giving.
Implementing a similar model for birthdays could mean a gift for a gift. Part of your child wishing for something is also scheming how to gift something to another. The internet is full of options and this could be a great time for them to learn about misfortune from you rather than on the television or at school.
Research causes that might spark interest with your child, such as: planting trees, saving an endangered species, buying clothing or food for the roughly 13.1 million food-insecure kids in America (MercyHousing. org, 2016), or contributing to a charity focused on eradicating a disease, among others.
Donating Clothes & Toys
It never hurts to periodically scan your closets to filter out clothing and other useful items that haven’t been used in a while. Encourage your children to join you and see what they come up with, but also carefully monitor what they select as it may be something they actually need or use and are just grabbing out of kindness and excitement for the process.
Drop items off at local thrift stores or the well-know Salvation Army or Goodwill centers for distribution. Be sure to to include your children with the delivery process and teach them about how these places help people with donations such as theirs.
Keep in mind: If you do everything for them, the experiential value will be greatly diminished.
If your child receives an allowance or does work around the house, you can figure ways of divvying a certain amount aside for charity.
If the work starts to grow into the neighborhood, such as: mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, or cleaning yards and garages, you can start a jar where a portion of their earnings will be donated.
There’s an excitement that build as the jar fills; and like with charitable holidays and birthdays, together you may choose how to best use their time or donations to better the community.
Helping the neighborhood’s elderly and families of service members can be community service-oriented projects you’re regularly engaging in. If you’re involved with a local church or synagogue, ask the leadership for options for giving time and supplies to the group, or if there are specific families that could benefit from your donations.
Hospital Care Packages & Volunteering
Whether it’s someone old or young, there are people who could use the company at local hospitals. And no matter the reason or duration of someone’s visit, there is a yearning for home and company that could be satisfied by you and your child’s visit.
Bring homemade food (with permission of the hospital*), or your favorite games or hobbies, and share with those who are experiencing hardship at the hospitals in your community.
Some families are forced to remain at the hospital in support of one of their loved ones. Giving support is not specific to just patients.
Get creative and don’t be shy; just be willing to meet people and learn about how you could possibly help them through their troubling times.
Soup Kitchens & Community Food Banks
Again, it’s not just good timing around the holidays; there is year-round opportunity for volunteering at a local food shelter, or serving food at a soup kitchen or pop-up shop.
Talk with your children about how they’d like to help the less fortunate, and figure out a way to bring in local businesses or food trucks to step up and have an event where everyone comes together to help. Imagine a care package donation with hygiene supplies, and local food trucks donating a plate for the cause.
Although it’s not about the notoriety of volunteering, creating an event like this can gain local buzz and double your efforts with random volunteers joining the cause and potentially growing it into something you’d never imagine. An event such as this could even be adapted for a school or district-wide volunteering tradition that teaches many kids and not just a single family.
Senior Citizen Communities
Outside of the elderly in your neighborhood, spending time with and completing difficult tasks for the senior citizen communities could be a memorable experience for everyone involved.
Human relations, and the lessons of life and connections outside of our home and social circles are valuable lessons for kids.
Perhaps the elderly person you support doesn’t have family that can visit as frequently as they’d hope, or just don’t have family in their lives anymore. The little tasks such as cleaning yards, windows, and cars, or even gardening or playing games will give them the connection they thrive on.
Not to mention, a relationship with a person and not just a cause.
Animal Shelter & Humane Society
Just like humans, stray and fostered animals need food. Contact your local shelter or humane society to see what their specific needs are, and the specific seasons, types of items, and intervals at which they could use your donations.
PRO TIP: Allow the kids — and yourself — to visit and spend time with the animals you’re helping. However, be careful… this could also lead to a permanent member of the family. But, then again, that’s the best gift you can give. And a great story for years to come.
Share your charitable traditions if you have them, or the people or causes you’re considering in the comments below so that others may adapt for their home and communities. And tag @the_ptoffice on Instagram with your efforts for a chance to be featured on our social channels.