I love the idea of serving and volunteering as a family. However, with very young children it can sometimes feel like more of a challenge than it is worth. They can't go with you to the soup kitchen, or help at the food pantry until they are older. The AIDS clinic probably isn't the best place for them to be either, if they are even allowed. I've found that most of these places have an age limit, which makes sense. Taking my toddlers to the soup kitchen wouldn't help out the soup kitchen.
So what can we do to foster compassion and a spirit of service? I've been brainstorming ideas and these are a few that we are going to try.
Choose a holiday to give donations as gifts. Perhaps at Christmas your family will always donate a lamb through World Vision to commemorate the birth of The Lamb. Perhaps, at Valentines Day you can donate a monetary gift to a charity of your choice. World Vision lets you choose specific gifts. Maybe on Mother's Day you can give a loan through Kiva.org to a mother in another country to help her business. There are lots of ideas and opportunities for this at your fingertips. Involve your children in choosing the gift.
There are of course the normal holiday things too. Adopt a child from the tree of sharing. Help deliver turkeys at Thanksgiving. Provide a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need.
But what about a monthly service project? This is something I have been wanting to incorporate for a while now. I would like to dedicate one family home evening a month to service. Here are some of the ideas I came up with.
Tie a blanket to donate to your local homeless or women's shelter.
Organize a food/blanket/hygiene supplies drive for your local shelter or food pantry. You can hang up flyers in your neighborhood, put notes on cars and doors of the date and then pick up the donations for your activity.
Assemble kits for your local shelter. Perhaps a welcome kit for mothers and children who have just fled an abusive home. A hygiene supplies kit. Birthday goodie bags for children in the shelter on their birthday. These don't have to be terribly expensive. You could even get a group of your girlfriends or family friends together and have everyone bring $5-$10 of supplies, and then assemble the kits together.
Teach young children how to crochet or use a knitting loom to make caps for the cold winter months.
I know a family who put together paper bags filled with food to hand out to the homeless people they saw around town. They kept the bags in the car to hand out whenever the opportunity arose.
Adopt a grandparent at the convalescent center and visit monthly.
Go sing songs around the convalescent center and visit with the residents.
Every little bit counts. Don't feel like you have to start off with a two week trip to build a school in Mexico. Although, when your children are older that might be awesome. I would recommend trying to make your monthly service projects local. I think sometimes we forget or dismiss the needs in our own community.
What are some of your ideas or things you have done as a family?