'Tis the season for sharing and giving, and what better way to do that than by donating your time to people and places in need! The holidays can be a lonely time of year for some folks, and it's always good to remember those less fortunate than us. A great way to give back is by volunteering to help, even in the smallest of ways.
Getting children involved is a great way to encourage responsibility as well as a sense of dependability. Volunteering also puts children in contact with other adults to serve as positive role models. As children work side by side with grownups on volunteer projects, they observe adults giving time and effort to worthwhile causes. Instead of looking up to a rock star advocating skimpy outfits and numerous marriages, your children just might say, "Mom, Mr. Stevens is so cool! Do you know he helps sick eagles and hawks at the bird sanctuary?"
Here are a few ideas to get you started in your philanthropy:
Bedtime Snack Sacks: While most kids enjoy a bedtime snack, children living in homeless shelters seldom have that treat. With your kids, decorate a number of lunch bags with markers, sequins, and glitter. Fill each bag with a juice pack and non-perishable treat such as a granola bar, packaged crackers, or dried fruit. Add a small "Happy Meals" type toy as a surprise. Deliver the snack sacks to a women's shelter. For privacy reasons, your child may not actually see any residents at the shelter. The experience should foster some meaningful conversation with older kids about why the shelter exists and how it's supported, while younger children will feel good knowing they helped another.
Dog and Cat Fun: Local humane societies look for volunteers to walk their dogs. See if your family can register as dog walkers. You'll get exercise along with the dogs! Kids can also collect old towels and newspapers to donate to shelters to use for animal care.
Many senior citizens cherish their pets. Seniors on limited incomes often have difficulty paying for pet food and supplies. How about getting your children to collect pet food and then donate it to a senior center? One family I know got out their trusty red wagon and went door to door in their neighborhood, asking pet owners to donate food. (Ask people without pets if they can make a cash donation.)
Outdoor Clean-Up: Contact your local Parks and Recreation department to see if they need help on trail clean-up. Kids can help staff create trails, plant flowers, and maintain park facilities.
Road Runs: Offer to be a volunteer with a local road run or sports event. Organizers always need people to take registration or to distribute T-shirts. Children can pass out water or even hold the ribbon at the finish line.
Entertainment: Do your children have dramatic or musical talents? Have them practice a skit, song, or musical piece. Offer to present a "talent show" to a local nursing home.
Coupon Collecting: Look through newspapers and magazines and collect coupons for groceries and household supplies. Ask your neighbors to contribute some also. When you have a bundle of coupons, donate them to a shelter to help stretch their budget.
Decorating Delight: Volunteer to decorate for seasonal activities at nursing homes or group homes. You can purchase inexpensive streamers, balloons, and decorating supplies—and for a personal touch, kids can make some of their own decorations. Even toddlers can help out with paper chains or adding their own artwork.
Reading Fun: Check if the local library needs help with reading programs. Children can make posters about upcoming events or dress as a storybook character. Additionally, older kids may read to seniors at nursing homes or to someone who has lost his or her vision.
Do you have any other ways you give back to the community? Sound off in the comments section!