Today is Giving Tuesday, an idea/organization founded four years on the premise that we have two days for shopping, a day for giving thanks, and there should be a day for giving back. There are many ways to give back so I wanted to focus on some ways to help children give,be it today or any other day.
I think the idea behind the Giving Tuesday organization is great (“#GivingTuesday harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities”) and they have lots of resources but I’m focusing on small things to do with your children to give to their communities, to those less fortunate, or to whatever cause you/they find important.
If it’s possible to drop off together at a local organization that allows the kids to see where things are going. There are also many, many organizations that take used goods as donations (I wrote a blog post on where to donate hard to donate items last year), so for us one “aha!” moment was when we talked about how dogs and cats who were waiting for families could use the baby towels that we’d outgrown (shelters and other organizations take even ripped and stained linen and use it as bedding for the animals). That allowed us to start an interesting discussion on what we use and how things can be used.
Our littlest is too young to understand this but our elementary schooler is able to have a conversation about where we give money and why. Something that we did recently that I thought worked well was giving her $20 in singles and saying that she could decide where they go (this works with allowance money, too). Then we talked about what kinds of charities, looked things up together, wrote the names of the ones she liked on index cards, and she sat there and thought very hard for almost half an hour, very deliberately allocating each dollar to a cause.
Picking out items to give to those in need:
I’m a fan of doing this through giving trees, which most day cares and schools do nowadays. The idea is that other children have written what they want on a “leaf” and you pick the leaf off the tree, buy and wrap the present, and return it to the tree by the designated time. This enables kids to connect with a real person, even in their heads (“Mommy, why does an eight year old boy want Staw Wars LEGOS? Where do you think he lives? What do you think he’s like? I think he’s tall, mommy. . .” More importantly this ensures that you’re getting a child exactly what they asked for, which I’d rather do than give genetic presents (not that those are not good too!) but I think it’s great for kids to be able to pick out a leaf and get excited about it and then go shopping with you and pick out the presents that the other child wants. Many local food pantries also have a list of most-desired items that can be found year-round, not just at the holidays.
Selecting existing items to donate:
Going though toys and clothing together to have them pick what they no longer play with or wear. We times talk about how they’ll get new toys for the holidays so they need to make room, but mostly try to encourage them to pick. There are always a few that are easy because my kids don’t like them anymore, but I try to then ask “well, what would another little girl/boy like? which is a super-fun toy that would make someone happy?”
This can be a hard one with younger kids because many established organizations that have volunteer programs also have minimum ages so are more for older children. For example, we used to volunteer frequently at the Greater Boston Food Bank before kids, and they have what is apparently a great program called Kids Who Care for children to volunteer, but they have to be ten at the youngest. Doesn’t mean you can’t find them – in the greater Boston area, Cradles to Crayons is an excellent organization that allows kids as young as five to volunteer.
For a good general resource to find volunteering opportunities, I like VolunteerMatch, which is a national non-profit that matches people with volunteer opportunities. I’m a fan because when you select “advanced search” you can choose a variety of factors like interest areas but you can also select “kids” to find child-friendly volunteering opportunities.
Helping to cook a meal for friends who’ve just had a baby (this can be more pouring and mixing and less cooking depending on how old your kids are), finding out if any local places like senior centers could use help, writing cards or drawing pictures – there are lots of ways to give in your neighborhood that don’t involve stuff. I’m purposely writing less about this here since I want to do a separate post on giving thanks (not just at Thanksgiving!).
Overall, talking about inequalities that exist in your community, and what you can do to fix them. For example, “some people might not have enough food” became “let’s bring some food to people who need it” which became us going through cabinets and putting together several bags for the local food pantry. Of course, my youngest wanted to give them all of the celery and foods she doesn’t like, but I was actually fine with her picking some unopened things that were less practical because I could round off the bags with other groceries and I felt like it was important that she was involved in the act of physically selecting things and going to drop them off.Happy giving day, whenever you do it!
All photos are the author’s own except the photo of the Greater Boston Food Bank’s Kids Who Care program, which is courtesy of GBFB at http://gbfb.org/how-to-help/volunteer-kids-who-care.php.