One of the most impactful memories from my youth comes from an annual volunteering experience I shared with my mom. She belonged to the Mothers Club in our town and the organization partnered with local shelters every year to host a holiday party of sorts for women and children in need. The church event space was always colorfully and cheerfully decorated with stations for activities like face-painting and cookie decorating, a bountiful dinner buffet and an abundance of gift boxes wrapped in shiny paper with big bright bows. My mom and I always volunteered at the face painting station.
When the first bus of mothers and children arrived each year, I was always a little stunned. I didn’t often see people eat so fast or so much. I never really met children who were painfully afraid of strangers. I certainly never saw anyone cry when given a Christmas present – especially without even knowing what it was! By the end of the night, the children were always clinging to us and the mothers would embrace us in a way that felt like they never wanted to let go. I could see in their eyes that they didn’t want to go back to where they had come from. I always wished we could pile everyone into our car and take them home with us. I pictured laying blankets and pillows on the floor of my bedroom and sharing my space and toys with all the sweet little kids I’d met.
Needless to say, that night made a deep impression on my soul every year and stayed with me for weeks and months after we went home. The experience showed me firsthand how fortunate I was to have good warm clothes, a roof over my head, two loving parents, abundant food and presents under the Christmas tree. I was exposed to an element of society I might not have encountered otherwise – and it planted a seed in me that grew and grew. As an adult, I have dedicated much of my life to giving back and I intend to teach my children to do just that – as my mom did with me.
You can never start too soon!
I started a blessing bag tradition last year with Daisy and while she is too young to know what we are doing now, eventually she will be a hands-on participant. We often pass panhandlers on our way in and out of town and I like to be able to help them with a snack, some water and some essentials they may not have access to. Every few months I’ll go to Target and fill up a cart at the travel section – a hundred dollars usually yields about ten bags and they are always so appreciated when I give them out. Rather than distributing cash which may contribute to an addiction, this ensures that they are getting some sustenance.
I buy Ziploc freezer bags that can withstand the elements and typically include the following items:
Wet napkins or cleansing cloths
Individually packaged snacks like pretzels, Goldfish, peanut butter crackers, granola bars
Bottle of water
In the winter, I add warm gloves and in the summer, I add sunblock. Other things to consider: a note of encouragement or an inspiring quote, a gift certificate to Subway or MacDonalds, chewing gum, mints or chocolate.
I hope to eventually enlist Daisy with helping me pick out the items that go into the bags and the assembly, which is always fun! The best part is seeing the smile wash across the faces of recipients – I hope this helps to encourage a giving heart in my children.
According to CNN, “talking to our kids about how we give back -- everything from our money to our time and our energies -- and whom we give back to -- goes a long way in building a generous spirit in children, research shows. Children whose parents talk to them about giving back were 20% more likely to give to charity than parents who did not discuss giving with their children, according to a 2013 study for the United Nations Foundation conducted by the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.”
Here are some helpful resources on the subject of raising children who want to give back:
9 Ways to Teach Your Child About Charity – How to Make Family Giving a Habit from Parents
Teaching Kids to Give as They Receive from CNN
Teaching Your Child Charity from Parenting
How to Raise a Philanthropist from the Wall Street Journal
5 Ways to Teach Kids to Give Back & Serve Others from Today
Go out and give, everyone ❤