Maybe it was growing up in a half-Catholic family where passing someone in need filled me with guilt from an early age. Maybe it was growing up in an Army family, where serving was just part of what you’re expected to do. Whatever the case, I had great models in both my parents for giving more than we take and doing more than expected every day. Spending time with kids while giving back was just a part of life.
And, now I have my own kids – three little ones, in fact. In the tradition of my raising, I’ve come up with some fun ways to enjoy each other and keep them entertained while also helping out those in need. If you are looking for places to volunteer with kids, check out this post. My hope is that my kids come to understand that there’s this whole other world out there – far beyond the comforts of their world, and it’s our duty and privilege to make a positive difference.
Here are 10 ways that we’ve made giving back a normal part of or week. I hope you enjoy, share your ideas with me, and maybe even get a little inspired!
1. Make 50 sandwiches bags for the homeless
Simply make sandwiches, hop in the car, and hand them out where they tend to congregate. We’ve done peanut butter and jelly, but it’s not nearly as popular as sandwiches with meat and/or cheese in them. Here’s the thing; every shelter seems to hand out pbjs. They get tired of eating them. And, the sugar in the jelly or peanut butter (if not all-natural) rots teeth. For both of these reasons, they tend to avoid them. Another option might be falafels, empanadas, or anything else that’s relatively easy to make, handle and eat.
If you are able to include a snack, try to avoid hard fruit (like apples), as it can sometimes be painful to those living on the streets — again, they often have dental issues. I suggest bananas or a chips and a water bottle. If you can spare it, I’d also include a napkin (for dignity). My kids like to put heart stickers on the sandwiches after they wrap them in foil. Sometimes they’ll also include a note inside the bag with a drawing or a simple message of kindness.
We typically go to Churches or under bridges where we know they will be. My one, six, and 8 year old stay in the car, but help hand them to me as I hand them to our “new friends.”
2. Create kindness rocks & sprinkle in your neighborhood
We have had kindness rock parties, where each family will bring a box of rocks to paint, which you can sometimes find in the larger craft stores, but always on Amazon. The kids each paint a handful or two, and then everyone goes in a different direction and plops them into little gardens, on steps, porches, and wherever they might be spotted and make someone happy. We did this once in my neighborhood and a group of senior citizens reached out saying they were sad that none were left at the center where they lived. Of course, we made some more up the next day and scattered them around the front door of the center. They were so grateful.
3. Simple yard work or assistance for neighbor in need
If you know of someone in your neighborhood who might be sick, or elderly and could use some extra assistance, a visit, or maybe a plate of cookies, have your kids help out in making this happen. Sometime we’ll post on our neighborhood list serve “Anyone in need of a little help today? My children and I would have 1 hour between 12 pm and 1 pm and we’d love to help anyone who might need help watering their plants, picking up leaves, or might be in need of warm cookies. Please let us know if that’s you!”
4. Gather all the extra toys and clothing and organize them to be donated
We do this at least once a month, and it definitely sparks joy – at least for me. This is a great way to reduce clutter, keep everyone busy and remind them of how others have less. We do this so often that my kids will sometimes say “We have too much; I’m putting this in a bag for the kids who don’t have stuff.” Then, choose a place to deliver the items. There are lots of places who will happily take a such a delivery. Personally, I like Goodwill because it provides employment for those who really need it, and when Goodwill was all I could afford, it made my day to find donations of quality items.
5. Create a pop-up bakery to support your favorite local charity
This one is super easy. Buy the ingredients, have your kids help make the desserts, and as they’re baking, have your kids make signs. Be sure to start advertising this sale at least a day in advance with a sign where you plan to hold it. Add it on social media too. Include a link to donate to the charity directly for anyone who can’t make it to the sale or offer to take the donation via PayPal. Have your kids “run” the sale, and don’t put prices on anything — doing otherwise will earn you less. People give more when it’s for charity and the prices aren’t set.
6. Start a collection drive
This is a fun one for any season and can have a big impact. Contact you favorite local charity and see what in-kind items they might be in need of. Perhaps your local dog shelter could you towels or dog chow. Maybe your local women’s shelter could use toiletries. Whatever it is, put the word out to your neighbors in person and on social media. Let them know they can leave the items on their front steps or with the front desk. Ask them for their addresses and you’ll make it easy by managing the pick-ups. The trick here is to be very clear about your “service” area and the time frame for your pick-up. I suggest a specific one or two hour time period on a given day within comfortable walking distance. For older kids, creating a map of where you’ll be collecting can add to the adventure.
7. Write “full of awesome” post-it notes and place on doors and cars
This one is best done on a clear night void of rain, wind & snow. We give each child 15 post-it notes or pieces of paper on which they write a kind note or draw something out of their imagination. Then, once the sun goes down, you go a on “top-secret kindness mission” to attach these notes to neighbors’ car windshields and storm doors; when they wake up in the morning, they’ll find a bit of happiness awaiting them.
8. Order pizza and deliver to your local fire station
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but could end up also being an amazing field trip to fire station! Offering local firefighters any food is such a wonderful way to give back and support the community.
9. Do a trash pick-up hike
Start with a picnic and then put on some rubber gloves, bring a few separate bags – for trash and recyclable items. Set a goal and suggest a prize for the one who collects the most in a certain amount of time.
10. Compliment Others
Ask your kids to write down the name of every kid in their class – and one nice things about each of them. Because finding the best in people starts at home. Change the way you look at people and the way they are changes.
Those are some of our favorite ways to spend time with kids while giving back. I’d love to hear yours!
About the Guest Author:
Sheena Saydam is a local real estate agent with a team that serves the DC area. She is also a mom of three. Sheena has served on several charity boards, including as the Chair of the Board of Urban Ed, a non-profit in southeast DC that provides IT education to young adults and middle school children. She runs several women’s empowerment groups, speaks internationally on business and social impact, and her real estate team was the largest investor in Maryland’s first shower truck for the homeless; their next project, through Generosity Global, will bring a shower truck to Washington, DC.