It’s so important to give back to our community, and this is a lesson we especially want to teach our kids now more than ever. Even though there’s not a lot of in-person volunteering going on right now, kids can still give back to their community through volunteering projects they can do at home. Whether they choose to befriend an elderly neighbor, send thank you notes to the military or support their local animal shelter, kids will learn that helping others makes them feel good, too!
1. Cook for your community.
The organization Lasagna Love offers multiple ways to give back to families in need, right in your own neighborhood. Sign up to make a monthly, bi-weekly, weekly or even multiple lasagnas in a week to feed a family in need and deliver them via contactless delivery right to a local family you are matched to. If you can't cook you can donate to sponsor a family. Need a lasagna? They can help you with that, too.
2. Host a (virtual) give-back birthday party or play date.
Organize a virtual birthday party or play date with your parent friends, and have each guest drop off something you can donate to a local food pantry or non-profit. You can also ask guests to purchase items off of your favorite non-profit's wish list. Your kids will feel good knowing that they made a difference.
3. Write letters to seniors.
Kids who want to spread some joy through the mail should sign up to participate in Pumpkin Letters, a program started by a Bay Area teen to combat loneliness in the senior population. Kids meet for zoom sessions to draw together (or you can do it on your own) and letters are collected for distribution to senior centers.
4. Donate books to your local Little Free Library.
Sharing a love of reading is a great way to give back to kids in your community. Have your kids go through the books that they might be too old for and have them donate them to your nearest Little Free Library. You can look up the location of one closest to you, or better yet, start your own Little Free Library in your neighborhood!
5. Write a letter of thanks to a community hero.
Have your kids write a letter to a first responder, teacher or other community leaders. It's always a nice way to recognize the hard work and job they do for everyone.
6. Donate non-perishable foods in decorated paper bags.
Food pantries always need non-perishable food donations. Have your kiddos look through the cupboards and pull out canned goods, cereal and other items. Then, have your little ones decorate the paper bags that you'll use to contain the donation items. Kids love getting creative, so have them draw a picture and write a message of goodwill on the paper. You can find a local drop-off center through this Feeding America food bank locator.
7. Give your DVDs a new home.
If you're like most families, Netflix has more than likely turned your DVD collection into a dust catcher. Work with your kids to pick out the discs you don't watch anymore, and give them a new home (Really, is your five-year-old going to watch Baby Einstein anymore?). Children's hospitals, libraries and daycare centers would likely welcome your donations. Elementary schools may also take some of those G-rated gems.
8. Quiz your kids for a good cause.
Kids love playing computer games and with freerice.com they can give back while they play. The site asks a variety of questions (English vocabulary is the best bet for kids); for every question you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program. You can also create an account on the site so you can see the total amount you've contributed. Helping others and learning new words? Sign us up!
9. Befriend an elderly neighbor.
These times can be isolating for a lot of us, especially our elderly neighbors. Befriend an elderly neighbor and see if they need any help with yardwork or picking up groceries. You can also reach out to your local senior center to see if they have any residents who might want a pen pal. The organization Love for Our Elders also accepts handwritten notes to distribute to needy elderly. Get your kids practicing their handwriting and spreading some cheer at the same time!
10. Make handmade gifts for a charity to sell.
Especially during the holidays, your kids will enjoy making sweet DIY gifts to donate to charity. They'll be able to see that something they make will bring joy to others. Find our favorite gifts kids can make on their own here.
12. Write a letter to the troops.
Kiddos can get artsy and practice writing, all while doing an act of community service. Men and women serving overseas in the armed forces love notes of thanks from folks back home. Encourage your kids to write "thank you" letters or draw colorful pictures. Organizations like A Million Thanks has helped kids send more than 7.6 million letters! They tell you exactly where to send the notes, provide drop-off locations and have suggestions about what to write if kids are stumped.
11. Make a comfy blanket.
Linus from the Peanuts comic isn't the only person who knows the value a comfy blanket can bring. Project Linus understands too, and they make it their mission to provide homemade security blankets to kids in hospitals, shelters or wherever they need a bit of comfort in their lives. You and your family can become "blanketeers" by creating a handmade blanket or afghan for a kiddo in need. Not a sewing pro? No problem! Project Linus provides a no-sew pattern. Once you're finished, you drop it off at one of the donation centers in your closest city.
13. Send some love to your local animal shelter.
If you're an animal lover with the time and space to spare, you can look into fostering a new furry friend. But even if you're not able to take that on, you can still find ways to help your local animal shelter. Shelters often accept gently used water and food bowls, leashes, collars and pet beds, as well as cleaning supplies and other basic necessities—check with your local shelter to find out what they need. You can also get the little ones involved making your own no-sew dog toys. Visit Imagine Our Life to get the instructions.
14. Create blessing bags.
Mel from The Larson Lingo makes blessing bags for homeless individuals during the holiday season. But there's no reason your family can't participate any time of the year. Mel fills individual large Ziplock bags with items such as toiletries, snacks, new socks, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, a bottle of water, and many other things (she provides a list on her website with suggested items). Mel encourages families to shop for the items together and have the kiddos draw cards to go inside. Families can then distribute the bags on their own or bring them to a local shelter.
15. Volunteer time as a citizen scientist.
Did you know that you can donate your time to help scientists study all of the living creatures in your area? Kids make great citizen scientists as they can use their observational skills and learn about plants and animals that live near us. SciStarter has a great search tool where you can look for projects that need volunteers in your area. Search for stinkbugs in your back yard, head to a nearby water source and listen for frog mating calls and collect samples from your backyard to send to scientists. What a great way to learn and give back!
16. Gather the old toys and donate them to an organization.
Are your kids already making their holiday wish list and checking it twice? This year, why not teach your littles ones about the power of giving and receiving. You can try a "one-for-one" holiday wish list idea; for every item on your kid's wish list, have them donate one of their items. Then, take those items to the places you may not think of for donations. For example, daycare centers and churches/synagogues may like receiving children's books and games.
—Kate Loweth, Leah R. Singer & Susie Foresman
Featured image: iStock