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Ask the Readers: What are some simple ways a family with four small children can give?

Today’s question is from Tara:

Although the “season of giving” is technically over, I have been so inspired by other people’s giving posts in December that I have made a New Years Resolution to continue to find ways to give throughout the year. I would love to compile a list of ways my homeschool family could
minister to others and was hoping the readers on December212012® could help me brainstorm more ideas.

I am looking ideas that a family with 4 small children can do together. They can be quick, long, cheap, expensive. I would love to collect ideas that we could do every time we are out — like helping someone load groceries into their car, collecting carts, picking up trash, etc. I really want to use this year to teach my children to look around for the needs of others and meet them. -Tara

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159 Comments

  • Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy says:

    My 4 kids are 9, 6, 4 and almost 2. This fall we raked a lot of yards–at my 6-year-old’s suggestion–as a family to minister to those we know with new babies, broken legs, crazy schedules and the like.

    If it ever gets cold enough this winter, we’ll shovel snow. Maybe in the spring we’ll put down mulch? My kids are great at coming up with the ideas–so I’ll see what they come up with!

  • Joy Smith says:

    If you go to church, stay after the last service to make sure your main worship building is cleaned up – that’s actually become somewhat of a habit with my kids. My kids are a little older, so we’ve picked up trash on the bike trails while taking a walk; I’ve made my older son mow yards in our neighborhood and shovel dirt for our neighbors. Being helpful is a habit, so be aware of what is going on around you and be actively looking for things the kids to help with. Now that mine are 10, 13, 16 & 18, I see them taking the initiative themselves and it makes me SO very proud!

    • c says:

      I love this idea. As a pastor’s wife this job has always gone to me and our children. Although we look at it as another way to serve, when I am tired, an extra pair of hands goes a long way to make me feel encourged. I have a special place in my heart for those who have stayed after the church parties to clean up and vacuum!

    • mildred lane says:

      A friend at church started holding an umbrella when it rains for people to and from the car. Helping the elderly to sit down. I am 73 and stumble lots and ab arm to just lean on is a help.

    • Leah says:

      My in laws are the pastors of our church and I know my mother in law ends up cleaning the building. This is a GREAT way to serve!!

    • Emily @ Our Frugal Happy Life says:

      I love the idea of helping clean up at church. My husband is a pastor, and yes, quite often it’s him and me who end up doing that stuff. It seems that people just assume we’ll do it.

      There are also days that we leave quickly and tell someone else to lock up!

  • peever says:

    I saw this list on Pinterest and thought it had some good ideas…

    http://wearethatfamily.com/2011/06/100-ways-for-your-family-to-make-a-difference/

  • Veronica says:

    When my children were young (K-5) we did meals on wheels once a month. We homeschooled, and considered this part of our schooling. It was wonderful for my children to see how happy delivering the meals made the senior citizens, and the older people enjoyed seeing the children. We also helped with various overseas orphan projects.

  • Joann says:

    My kids and I baked cookies for my husband’s police department. I would recommend doing them for a fire department instead if you don’t have a direct connection to a police department…some officers are paranoid, as you might imagine! 🙂

    • lori says:

      My husband is a police officer and I know exactly where you’re coming from. Perhaps you could use coupons to do a snack basket for them with pre-wrapped treats such as granola bars, crackers, fruit cups, chips, etc. instead. I know sometimes they get wrapped up with a drunk driver or a domestic violence situation and haven’t eaten since their shift began, and those snacks would come in handy for a hungry and fatigued officer.

      • Kristi says:

        Great idea! There are plenty of officers at my PD that will eat those home-baked goods when the people bringing them identify themselves, such as with hand-made cards from the children. But they tend to get left out in the breakroom sometimes when it’s a very busy day, so they get a little dry. Our officers love the pre-wrapped treats just as much because it’s a gift given out of appreciative hearts. I would also add that there are typically 3 shifts of officers, so you might consider that when getting your gift together. We’ve had people bring in three baskets with labels specifying what shift they are for.

        • Amanda says:

          My husband isn’t a police officer but he is in the military. When I drive him to bass in the morning those guys in the guard shacks are military police. When it gets a little colder I am going to bring them some baked treats. Some of them stand out there all night. It’s a great idea. Never thought of it!

          • Melissa Jones says:

            Fyi, I don’t think that they allowed to eat/drink on duty. Awesome idea, but make sure you’re not going to get them in trouble!

  • Debra says:

    My suggestion would be to call a nursing home in the area to find out if they want visitors. You might be surprised to know that many of the residents may be without family or other visitors and that you and yours have made a huge difference to them. Then you might like it and return. This will likely be a great lasting experience for you all too!

    • Sarah says:

      I had some great experiences singing with my family in nursing homes as a kid, and later in church youth groups. Great activity, especially if you have (or want to start/strengthen) a musical tradition in your family.

    • Kathy says:

      I agree with the nursing home idea. My sister use to be the social director at one and asked me to bring my kids dressed up around Halloween. The residents loved it and my kids learned a lot. I know the one around our home has different activities, like woodworking for the men and knitting for the women. Maybe just going and being extra hands and having a conversation with the residents would be a great ministry. There might be individuals that could use an “adopted” family; take them treats, send cards, stop by, etc.

      • Martha Artyomenko says:

        We were as young as 12 and 9, when we volunteered as tray aids at nursing homes and singing for them. Handing out snacks, drawing pictures for them…..we adopted a “grandma” or “grandpa” of the ones who did not visited much, and we loved it!

        • KimH says:

          I was going to suggest seeing if you can find a nursing home that would let your children come build a garden & run it with the elderly. I always had visions of doing that myself but never had the opportunity. I did garden with the elderly, just not in a nursing home. 😉

    • Brandy says:

      One more extra step would be to take a bunch of your kids artwork (from school, church, etc) and pass out at the nursing home too. They love that.

    • Rebecca says:

      My boys and I have made “hello” cards for patients at a nursing home and assisted living facility near us. I call ahead to get a rough number of patients and we spend a day with construction paper, markers and stickers! The boys love handing their cards out 🙂

  • Nony (A Slob Comes Clean) says:

    Reaching out to other moms with small children is huge. Have them in your home for a playdate, or offer to babysit. I know it’s sometimes crazy to have a houseful of someone else’s children, but it might make the day of a mom who desperately needs to go to the grocery store alone!

    • polskapolska says:

      Or a doctor’s appointment or a dental exam. I agree with this one so much. More kids can actually be easier than fewer since a herd mentality kicks in. Also cooking a meal for a mom that has just had a baby. It can be a simple family favorite, just make a double batch.

  • Chasity says:

    Collect cans for food bank.

  • Lana says:

    One chore that hubby and I as empty nesters are willing to hire neighborhood kids to do is pick up all the sticks and limbs in our yard after any sort of storm or big wind. We have a heavily wooded lot and it is a never ending chore. I am sure it would be easy to find an elderly person who would really appreciate this and kids love sticks so they might not find it a chore at all but the recipient sure will love you for doing it!

  • angela says:

    my husband and I have taken our kids to help various widows from our church who need help around the house. My husband has cleaned gutters while the kids and I have pruned bushes, picked up branches, picked fruit for them, etc. My husband has pruned fruit trees and the kids I pick up and haul away the branches. The women are so grateful and sweet to our children. We done this for about 3 years now, starting when our kids were about 4 and 5 years old. They have even asked when we will do it again. Yay!

    • Stephanie says:

      That is so wonderful!

    • Patti says:

      These are great helps for older people – but inside “chores” can be a big help, too. Changing light bulbs (up hight), smoke alarm batteries, or water filters on refrigerators are some of the easy chores my parents have a hard time doing.

  • Gail says:

    Have the kids make cards/pictures, etc for those in nursing homes, vet homes or to send to the troops. My daughter did this with her daycare kids and they got some nice notes back say what a day brightener they were.

  • Stephanie says:

    I belong to a group called family-to-family.org and they have alot of great ideas to help right in your area. The 2 I like best is making a Birthday Box for a child in a Shelter or getting help at a food pantry. And the Book At A Time program where you donate your children’s gently used books to a child one book per month.

  • Gabby says:

    Buy inexpensive fleece at the fabric store. Make no sew fleece blankets; small 24 x24 can be used for cats at a shelter, larger ones can be used for dogs at a shelter or taken to the nursing home for residents. They LOVE them.

    Collect aluminum cans, either take to a non-profit organization for them to cash in or cash in your self and donate to a cause.

    If you have a normal ‘take out pizza for dinner’ night, change it to an inexpensive meal every other week and put the savings in a jar. During the summer, donate that money to a food pantry or hot meal program for those experiencing hard times (I say summer because EVERYBODY donates at Christmas.

    Bake cookies and take to the local nursing home during the summer as a treat for the staff (can do the same for an animal shelter too – staff loves it).

    Hope that helps some!

    • Betty G. says:

      That’s a great idea. When my Disabled American Veterans and the Auxiliary played the guitar and sang at a nursing home, I took baked goods to the Staff. I made the chocolate brownies or cup cakes that morning, so the smell was so nice when I brought them down the hall. I’d been making them for the patients, but too many were diabetic. The Staff looked forward to my goodies twice a month.
      At the VA Nursing Home, my DAV and Aux. also sings and plays for the residents. I don’t sing or play, so I go along to start the applause. Once I start it on one song, they get the idea. I also print songs my group requests, so one man calls me “The Groupie”, a name I appreciate. I can cut my coupons while they sing and then applaud after each song.

  • Amy says:

    My family supports an orphanage in Haiti by giving from our stockpile. They love to help pack the boxes, color on the packages, and mail them. Then when the missionaries send their letters, the children love looking at the pictures, talking about how what we sent helped those children, and then sharing the story with others. This past summer they even asked extended family to give to help pay for the shipping. Who can resist those cute little faces asking for help for a worthy cause?!

    When I was little we would walk the rural roads and pick up trash. We were allowed to recycle all of the cans and use the money for a special treat!

    • alicia says:

      Out of curiosity.. Is there a reason you choose Haiti over the U.S?

      • Amy says:

        I know the missionaries personally and have been to the orphanage, and God has continued to give my family (and me) a burden for them.

        Also, they tell us what they need (items that they can’t get easily there, like feminine products), and we watch for sales and clearance. When we have quite a bit, we send the items to them. For instance, we just sent a bunch of red items (Christmas clearance) for a Valentine’s party that they will host to tell the people of God’s love.

        Third, this allows us to talk about other cultures as well as God’s love for all people. Hearing fom the people there provides opportunities to learn (and share with others) how God is working in other places.

        We have other opportunities to give here. I didn’t share those because other people gave quite a few examples. Thanks for asking! 🙂

  • jessica says:

    When my children were young (about 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 ish) we used to visit a friend in the nursing home. So while we were there we would visit other people who were shut in , some who didn’t have visitors usually. The girls just walked in and smiled and said hello, letting someone else know that God sees them and God still cares for them is really the biggest gift u can give. Sometimes the girls would sit and color a picture and give it to them , or make one before they went to visit. we would talk for a little bit and then leave, the person was always in better spirits by the end of our visit. Please understand that I am a bit of a germ a phob, and this was WAY outside of my comfort zone, I was a new Christian and a single mom, that had to do laundry at a laundromat. Every time we came home we had to strip out of our germy clothes and bag them and put on new clothes. my point: it took some extra work, and some stretching on my part but God used us, don’t be surprised or discouraged when He starts stretching u, your attitude gets passed on to the kids.

    Additionally about 2 years later I volunteered in our benevolence ministry, I picked food up from local grocers (through 7th Harvest food bank) brought it to the church pantry, I and a few of the staff would bring the food in, the girls would then help me sort the food and put it away. this is a good way for them to learn there is more than one way to give, and giving looks different depending on where God has called us for a season. This was similar to the sending part, though i kept the reports for the food bank I was often not there when the church gave out the food. But they wouldn’t have had it if I didn’t start the Ministry, initiate the partnership and go out weekly to collect the food. then when our house was flooded and we lived in a hotel we became recipients of it- another lesson in reaping what one sows .
    We also routinely (whatever works for your family wkly, monthly quarterly or semi annually) go through clothes and toys, and pick things we can give away.
    Local women’s shelters can really benefit from this.

    Compassion International has always been dear to my children as well, they gave up stuff so we could support a child, this same attitude also allowed us to support 1 missionary abroad and on at the college campus. and at Christmas be able to purchase a goat or chicken , u can build up to that savings throughout the year.

    we also did care packages for the kids going back to school u can use your stockpile to do this…get the kids involved in helping u cut the coupons, plan your trips etc… depending on their age of course. But even if they are little u can help them grasp the vision of this, then when u make them up they can help. maybe u want to make 2-4 kits lay out what u have (with their help) then get them t help u make a list of what u might need or want to add… they get invested and excited about giving.

  • polskapolska says:

    Other suggestions, take items from your own pantry for a food pantry for the poor (Matthew 25 and St. Vincent De Paul come to mind). CRS Operation Rice Bowl collections change during Lent and the funds to go aid the poor around the world. Go through the toys/books/clothes to choose things to donate, and make a trip to your local thrift store. Around Halloween, either donate the candy or trick or treat for canned goods instead. If the kids receive any kind of allowance or fun money, encourage them to mail in a donation toa favorite charity or purchase goods from a bake sale. Let others ahead of you in line at the grocery store. Purchase extra diapers during your regular grocery shopping and donate the package to a crisis pregnancy center.

  • Lisa Whitmore says:

    We’ve been thinking of this very thing! We have 5 kids 8, 4, 3, 3 and 7mths. My oldest daughter is in American Heritage Girls, they have instilled in her a love for God, Family, Community and Country. We’ve done several service projects for our veterans, so she now notices Veterans (mostly older men who are wearing a hat with their department of service on it) and wants to talk to them and thank them often. I have thought this is a great witness opportunity, so now I carry cards that I’ve made (like coloring pages) for my kids to color that say, God bless you for your service. We usually have time to color them while we’re waiting for food and such at restaurants and then my kids deliver them to the veterans before we leave. They are so happy to see that especially young children haven’t forgotten their service!

  • Martha Artyomenko says:

    Get involved in mom’s groups. Your children, even small, if they are helpful children can help with the other little ones.
    We have been involved with MOPS since my oldest son was 6. They love helping with the babies!

  • Karisa says:

    This last december our church had the opportunity to take our pre-school Sunday school class to a nursing home. They kids sang carols, we shared the Gospel with them, and we gave a snow globe to each resident in the room.

    We were told that we were not allowed to touch the residents, however, when the kids were done singing, many of them started BEGGING for the children to come and hug them. The nurses gave their OK. Some old ladies would not let go of the children as they hugged and kissed them. They were sooooo in need of a touch of affection. And as I learned, they small children were the ideal ones to do just this We were all touched, the residents, the children, the parents and even the nurses.

  • Audrey says:

    A few years ago my son and I volunteered at the local food bank. We helped them sort the misc bags of food that was donated into catagories, from which they stock their shelves like a grocery store. It was a great time spent together, and it made us both feel good to help out.

  • Connie says:

    Yard work, make cookies and deliver them, pick up garbage on the side of the road, run errands for an elderly person or take them to an appointment.

  • Meg says:

    In our town there is a thrift store that gives out beds to people in need. The store is always in need of new pillows to hand out. My young children could understand the concept of someone not having a pillow and were willing to use their money to buy one for someone else. It also started some good conversations at bed time, when they laid their head on that soft pillow.

  • Sarah says:

    These are great suggestions. I especially love the thoughts about helping widows and visiting those in nursing homes. One thing nursing homes are always in need of are volunteers to help feed people during mealtime. Many residents have to eat cold food because there aren’t enough hands to go around. The smallest children would not be able to help with that, but they could sit and chat while YOU helped feed someone…and your children would learn that the young AND the old sometimes need help feeding themselves. Another suggestion that I KNOW is very needed is help for those with chronic illness — first, to be REMEMBERED. A phone call, a card or an email or Facebook message can help someone isolated or alone to hang in there. Allowing your children to make cards or draw pictures “for people who don’t feel well” is beneficial to the children AND to the recipient of your kids’ kindness. Practically speaking, they need meals, rides to the doctor, grocery shopping, help with laundry, house cleaning and yard work. MANY people suffer with invisible illnesses, even in our churches, and are in desperate need of practical help even though they might “look good.” I and others that I know (including single mothers) have had the experience of being in great need and calling the church, only to be told “we don’t have anything set up to help people like you”. Obviously, your family and children can’t do it all, but you could set the standard and if you have a church you attend, maybe even form a “committee” so that other congregants and their children could also be involved in remembering and helping “the least of these”. Matthew 25:31-46; James 1:27. I APPLAUD WHAT YOU ARE DOING — LOUDLY!

  • Maria says:

    Some of these comments are making me tear up! What kind and generous people you all are! My husband and I often talk about what a difference a small gesture can make — and it’s often easy to spot an opportunity while you’re out and about. A smile to a passing stranger, a few moments to chat with a sweet older person in the grocery store (many of whom *love* to talk to little ones), leaving an extra-generous tip for your server, holding the door for someone who looks like they need it… We try to incorporate small kindnesses into our everyday lives and make it a habit.

  • Jessica says:

    A friend of mine just told me something really neat she did with her 2 1/2 year old son… Because it’s right after Christmas, and of course he got new toys, she sat him down to go through ALL of his toys and pick some out to give to our church nursery (but it could be another family or a shelter, etc…) for other kids to play with. She said she was surprised by his choices, because he picked some ones he plays with frequently, but she boxed them up and sent them anyway. I thought this was a neat idea because it involved the little boy in choosing, explaining to him why, and it wasn’t just old, broken toys that sometimes as a mommy it’s easiest to pass on! Give good things to others, not just rejects.

  • Allison says:

    You could do a litter pickup in a park or along a road (if the kids aren’t too young for this). I know a lot of cities and counties have non-profits affiliated with Keep America Beautiful (ex: Keep Atlanta Beautiful, Keep Knoxville Beautiful, etc.) who work with groups to organize cleanups. Here’s a link to a page where you can find a local group: http://www.kab.org/site/PageServer?pagename=find_an_affiliate

  • The Happy Wife/Danielle says:

    It never hurts to just ask. Ask your friends and neighbors if there is anything that they need some help with. Maybe it is as simple as bringing up their trash cans on trash day (or bringing them out the day before) or returning some books to the library for them. You could also just show up with some cookies that you spend the day baking. Sometimes, people will not tell you what they need help with, but if you flat out offer to do something, they will accept. When I was placed on bed rest with my 3rd pregnancy, a lady from church showed up at my house twice a week. She said, “I am here to take care of your laundry.” She then took my hamper of dirty laundry home with her. She washed, dried and folded it and then returned within a day or two to return it. Had she asked me what I needed help with, I would likely have said nothing, but because she came and told me how she wanted to help, it was hard to say no. It was also a HUGE help as my husband worked 2 jobs at the time and my little ones were too small to help with the laundry.

  • jessica says:

    we also did care packages for the kids going back to school u can use your stockpile to do this…get the kids involved in helping u cut the coupons, plan your trips etc… depending on their age of course. But even if they are little u can help them grasp the vision of this, then when u make them up they can help. maybe u want to make 2-4 kits lay out what u have (with their help) then get them t help u make a list of what u might need or want to add… they get invested and excited about giving.

    • jessica says:

      For SOME reason my comment is not showing up: it says duplicate comment but I’ve refreshed and it hasn’t shown up 2x’s now… so it appears I have to reply tot he last half of my post to get my whole comment in here. Sorry if it really does duplicate!

      When my children were young (about 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 ish) we used to visit a friend in the nursing home. So while we were there we would visit other people who were shut in , some who didn’t have visitors usually. The girls just walked in and smiled and said hello, letting someone else know that God sees them and God still cares for them is really the biggest gift u can give. Sometimes the girls would sit and color a picture and give it to them , or make one before they went to visit. we would talk for a little bit and then leave, the person was always in better spirits by the end of our visit. Please understand that I am a bit of a germ a phob, and this was WAY outside of my comfort zone, I was a new Christian and a single mom, that had to do laundry at a laundromat. Every time we came home we had to strip out of our germy clothes and bag them and put on new clothes. my point: it took some extra work, and some stretching on my part but God used us, don’t be surprised or discouraged when He starts stretching u, your attitude gets passed on to the kids.

      Additionally about 2 years later I volunteered in our benevolence ministry, I picked food up from local grocers (through 7th Harvest food bank) brought it to the church pantry, I and a few of the staff would bring the food in, the girls would then help me sort the food and put it away. this is a good way for them to learn there is more than one way to give, and giving looks different depending on where God has called us for a season. This was similar to the sending part, though i kept the reports for the food bank I was often not there when the church gave out the food. But they wouldn’t have had it if I didn’t start the Ministry, initiate the partnership and go out weekly to collect the food. then when our house was flooded and we lived in a hotel we became recipients of it- another lesson in reaping what one sows .
      We also routinely (whatever works for your family wkly, monthly quarterly or semi annually) go through clothes and toys, and pick things we can give away.
      Local women’s shelters can really benefit from this.

      Compassion International has always been dear to my children as well, they gave up stuff so we could support a child, this same attitude also allowed us to support 1 missionary abroad and on at the college campus. and at Christmas be able to purchase a goat or chicken , u can build up to that savings throughout the year.

      • Guest says:

        Comments are moderated so it sometimes takes awhile for them to show up. Give it a few hours to see if it still doesn’t show up…

  • jessica says:

    When my children were young (about 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 ish) we used to visit a friend in the nursing home. So while we were there we would visit other people who were shut in , some who didn’t have visitors usually. The girls just walked in and smiled and said hello, letting someone else know that God sees them and God still cares for them is really the biggest gift u can give. Sometimes the girls would sit and color a picture and give it to them , or make one before they went to visit. we would talk for a little bit and then leave, the person was always in better spirits by the end of our visit. Please understand that I am a bit of a germ a phob, and this was WAY outside of my comfort zone, I was a new Christian and a single mom, that had to do laundry at a laundromat. Every time we came home we had to strip out of our germy clothes and bag them and put on new clothes. my point: it took some extra work, and some stretching on my part but God used us, don’t be surprised or discouraged when He starts stretching u, your attitude gets passed on to the kids.

    Additionally about 2 years later I volunteered in our benevolence ministry, I picked food up from local grocers (through 7th Harvest food bank) brought it to the church pantry, I and a few of the staff would bring the food in, the girls would then help me sort the food and put it away. this is a good way for them to learn there is more than one way to give, and giving looks different depending on where God has called us for a season. This was similar to the sending part, though i kept the reports for the food bank I was often not there when the church gave out the food. But they wouldn’t have had it if I didn’t start the Ministry, initiate the partnership and go out weekly to collect the food. then when our house was flooded and we lived in a hotel we became recipients of it- another lesson in reaping what one sows .
    We also routinely (whatever works for your family wkly, monthly quarterly or semi annually) go through clothes and toys, and pick things we can give away.
    Local women’s shelters can really benefit from this.

    Compassion International has always been dear to my children as well, they gave up stuff so we could support a child, this same attitude also allowed us to support 1 missionary abroad and on at the college campus. and at Christmas be able to purchase a goat or chicken , u can build up to that savings throughout the year.

  • Angie D says:

    Our family has been involved with Numana for the past two years. They host packaging events that the whole family (ages 2-99) can participate in where you package bags of rice/beans/veggies for the hungry in third-world countries. Since the Haiti earthquake, Numana volunteers have packaged over 20 million meals. You can either them to see about helping host a packaging event or your family can participate through their new Messages of Hope program.

    See here for more info:
    http://numanainc.com/index.php

  • Ellie W. says:

    I did an outreach when I was a children’s pastor that works well for all ages & is something you could continuously do & is very frugal! We made large quantities of laundry soap (easiest recipe- 1 c. borax, 1 c. Washing Soda, & 1 bar Fels Naptha, grated) & then measured them out into individual baggies (since it only takes 1 tablespoon of that laundry soap, we put them in snack sized bags & write the directions for use on it. (I.e. “Add the laundry soap from this baggie into 1 load of laundry.”) Then donate them to a shelter! It’s an item that many do not get often & they can divide it out amongst many families this way! 🙂

    • Monica @ OurPerfectSeven says:

      I LOVE this idea! You could also make some every now and then to drop off at a laundromat. It would be great to add a message to spread God’s love about him washing our sins away…..white as snow!
      Ok….I think I’ve talked myself into doing that! Thanks for the idea!

  • Patti says:

    Just a few ideas: offer to straighten up the pews after church, making sure the pencils are sharp, the papers/envelopes/sign in pads are stocked, etc. Offer to recycle at your church by collecting the used bulletins at the end of the services. Our church has put in recycle collection cans at different locations but we have a hard time finding someone willing to clean them out and dispose of the trash (the church can’t put it in their commercial bins so we need someone to take it home or to a recycle center). Collect your children’s outgrown books and take them to a homeless shelter, children’s shelter, soup kitchen, etc. Or have them start a project to collect children’s books and take them to a school for each child to take one home. ( A independent bookstore in our town does this and each child goes home with a “new to me ” book for the summer. For many children, this is the first book they have ever owned. I now look for children’s books at yard sales to donate to this cause.) I also vote for the idea to help out with Meals on Wheels or nursing homes during “off ” times: maybe draw some pictures or make greeting cards. These residents gets lots of attention during holidays but not so much at other times.

  • misty gorman says:

    we adopted an elderly lady that does not have a lot of family from our church. we visit her weekly, clean for her, run errands, make goodies for her. i talk to the kids a lot about how she must feel, because she has to use a cane, her health issues, and how lonely it would be to be alone all day. it brightens her day when we visit and it brightens ours as well. she is a blessing to us. but i do love how my kids are learning empathy AND how Jesus calls us to take care of our elders. bless someone today:)

    • Sarah says:

      Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Getting empathy into the very SOULS of our children is making a better world for us, who will be elderly one day — sooner than we think.

  • Betsy says:

    I have 3 small children, and I’m part of a group at our church that showers each new mom with meals, every other day, for 2 weeks after the baby comes.

    First time moms especially don’t have a lot of mom friends that understand how wonderful this is, and so our church steps in and insists for every baby, first or fifteenth. I like that I can have my kids with me, while we are helping out a family.

    • Sara says:

      That’s a great program! My husband had to go back to work the day after my daughter was born, and I was cooking my own meals when she was three days old just because I didn’t have any options. I had severe post partum depression, and I think it was partially lack of support.

  • Heart and Haven says:

    Years ago, when I was a single mom and lived in Portland, I hired a handful of neighborhood kids to rake the leaves for me each Fall. It was a great win-win situation….I would pay them each @ $10, and it was cheaper for me than hiring a landscaper. They also had a ton of fun playing in all the leaves from my huge walnut tree, before the leaves got bagged up ;-). Sometimes service for kids doesn’t have to be “free” to be very helpful to others, and it also teaches children good work ethics.

  • Alyson says:

    I have 3 kids (3.5, 2, and 7 mo) with them being so young sometimes it is difficult to find ways to help others that are really helpful (aka us not being more in the way than anything!). As another posted has commented, we also deliver meals on wheels. We do it 1x a week (right now it is while my oldest is in preschool) with another mom who also has little ones the same age. When we go into the sr center to get our meals that our being delivered, the seniors who are there LOVE making over the 4 little ones that go along between the two of us, and some even remember to ask each week about our oldest ones at school. My friend and I also manage to get a little bit of “mom time” in while we spend about an hour together in the van. =) (My 2 year old gets excited for our “Meals on the Bus” as she calls it time each week!)

  • Andrea says:

    My family and I deliver library books to homebound senior citizens. Check to see if your library has a program like this – ours has paired us with old folks who love children and look forward to having a short visit with them. My kids have become much more comfortable around the elderly, it’s free (other than gas money, although all the people we deliver to live within a few miles of our house), and it means a lot to these folks to get reading material and visitors; being homebound gets lonely!

  • Michele Travis says:

    Stoplight bags: Assemble a gallon sized ziplock bag with non perishable food items, bottle of water, handi-wipes, tissues, etc to give out to people who are pan-handling at stop lights. Can also write a note to let the person know they have been prayed for. This generated a lot of discussion in our car as we sought out people instead of avoiding them.

  • SimplyFOuRus - Christine says:

    Pay for the fast food meal or toll for the car behind you. Be a light to your neighborhood by walking the neighborhood with a bag of light bulbs and ask if anyone needs one changed. Have your kids take fresh bread and soup or flowers to an elderly neighbor or someone who just really needs some sunshine in their day. Make meals for families that the parents that both work, are senior citizens, have new baby, or are just over whelmed. Kids are great dumpers, stirrers and pourers! Send in clothing to the school for the nurses office or families that could use it. Donate hats, gloves, scarves. We also let the kids (ages 7, 4, 3, & 1) pick out what basic needs they wanted to meet for others through Worldvision.org. Our 7 year old donated money for clothing for girls, our 4 year old donated for goats, our 3 and 1 year olds donated for chickens and rabbits to be sent around the world. They picked it all by themselves. It is amazing to see the joy in their hearts as they feel like they are needed to be a help to other people! A really fun way to make someones day…search Ding Dong Ditching on my blog. Our kids had a blast while others enjoyed a surprise treat! We are now going to do it with our neighbors!

  • Carol O. says:

    Making cards for new moms, shut-ins, those sick at the hospital from your church. As a new mom with my first baby, I had no one nearby to visit or send cards/flowers, etc. I would have ben VERY greatful to receive a meal or flowers or a card in honor of the occassion.
    Support military families in the area (if you have any). If you know of a reservist’s family who lives near-by when the reservist goes out of town, they can use LOTS of moral support. Mowing yard, trimming bushes, edging the sidewalk, a meal or babysitting are great for them too. I know, with little kids, some of this is not easy to do so you may have to save some of these ideas for later.

  • Carolynn @ mylittlebitoflife.com says:

    We have a Scrip program (where you can buy gift cards and the organization gets a % of the proceeds) at church. I have talked to the lady who is in charge and I regularly buy some and put DONATION on the form and she knows to send them to a family who could use a pick me up. I asked if single parent families could be put first priority. I usually buy Papa Murphy’s gift cards. I am looking into paying for Love and Logic classes for parents who want to go but can’t afford it. I also did blessing bags with my kids! http://mylittlebitoflife.com/?p=2314

  • Marie says:

    We do shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. I try to buy throughout the year to keep expenses low. I pick up crayons and colored pencils and other office supply items during .1 sales for back to school. I also will shop 75% off the dollar bin at Target making the item .30cents. Sometimes I’ve even been able to get new toys for FREE like Trio blocks and give those. Also I look for small clearance toys after the holidays but aim to pay no more then $2.
    We did 3 boxes this year and have 3 ready for this coming year.

  • Dani says:

    I love this topic! I write for a local blog about how to involve young children in community projects and honestly believe that a child is never too young to learn. One thing we have started doing is introducing an allowance for our 5 year old and she puts 1/2 in her piggy bank and the other 1/2 in savings to save up for someone in need. We then go through some of the “needs” in the community and she uses her saved money to put a package together (we replenish her piggy bank later without her knowledge but we’re a bunch of softies). It’s such an amazing experience for her and a great introduction to service.

  • Sarah @ Mindfully Frugal Mom says:

    My kids like to help me prepare meals and treats like cookies for friends that are going through difficult times. Then they help me deliver them!

    Another thing kids can do is make cards and send them to other kids in the hospital, or elderly folks in assisted living or nursing homes. This is fun for younger kids, and they do understand that they’re doing something for someone else.

  • Trixie says:

    One thing I like to do is pray for the Lord to let me know of someone that I can help. And then BE OPEN and acutlly RESPOND to His leading. This part is so important. The two times I did not respond when I knew He wanted me to help someone are forever etched in my memory.

    Surprisingly — or maybe not surprisingly people that don’t seem like they need any help will be be some of the people the Lord brings to your mind. What a tremendous honor and blessing it is to be used by the Lord to show people how much He loves them.

    • Sarah says:

      Same here. As a teenager, I visited an elderly lady who lived with her widowed elderly brother; my Mom cleaned their house. I had great “plans” to visit and read to her, since she had arthritis and could no longer hold a book and read for herself. She seemed to enjoy the brief visit by my friend and I. I never went back and read to her or spent any more time with her. I went to football games and youth group instead. She committed suicide…she was lonely and in pain. I have grieved my lack of follow-through for all these many years, and had to ask God for forgiveness, and forgive myself.

      • Guest says:

        Sarah, please know that you are NOT responsible for this women’s choice to end her life. It is tragic but this isn’t your burden to bear. We can absolutely make a difference in the lives of others but we cannot take on “saving” them because that isn’t our job. We’re servants of the Saviour and only He saves.

        • Sarah says:

          Thank you so much for the kind words. I know that it wasn’t my fault, but her death was a hard pill to swallow, wondering what kind of a difference I might have made.

  • Chelsea says:

    I think there are a lot of great suggestions on here. Something very small we try to do is when we go shopping at Aldi’s (about once every two weeks), instead of returning our cart, we look for somebody to give it to and refuse their quarter in exchange. We also try and take extra bags (canvas or plastic) in case we see somebody there who needs them.

  • Courtney Coates says:

    Dear Tara,

    My husband and I share this same passion with you — to live lives of generosity and be others- and God-centered rather than self-centered. And like you, we want to be able to minister to people as a family.

    So despite being white, well-educated, and in stable careers, we moved to an inner city neighborhood to live among the non-white, the non-educated, and the unemployed. Our jobs, our church, and even our children’s schools are located within a community of people whom we might not otherwise have built relationships with.

    The results can’t be ignored: our daughters think it’s a normal thing to spend their Wednesday nights playing and worshiping with a group of kids who look very different from themselves. They think that the homeless woman on the street looks a lot like the nice lady at church, so they wave at her and smile. As parents, we haven’t had to scrap together some images from brochures or schedule a slot at a soup kitchen in order to describe who “the poor” are; instead, they know people that fit that description by their first names, which means that giving away our time and money and possessions feels like we’re giving to our friends … which, we are.

    Not everyone is able to pick up and move to a different neighborhood in order to serve people — that definitely won’t make the “simple ways to give” list ;). But I think everyone has the capacity, wherever they are, to build real friendships with the people we minister to. A real friendship, one that goes beyond you giving and the other person receiving, will not only benefit your children and their worldview, but will also benefit the other person in a way no soup kitchen or toy drive ever could.

    • Leah says:

      I think that is awesome. By God’s great design I work in an area like this while living in the burbs and have relationships with people that I treasure that the people I live around just don’t understand. I love KNOWING who needs help and helping them. I love being reminded that we are ALL loved by God and that is all that matters.

  • Kim Jones says:

    These are all really wonderful ideas! We taught our children to do for other by doing for others ourselves. My husband has mowed an elderly lady’s difficult yard after her husband passed away. We would take the kids along for the ride. Eventually they loved visiting with our friend and my oldest son (13) started asking to help with the mowing this past summer. Kids learn from watching us. I’m sure you are setting a good example. Just remember to spend time praying for others and asking the person struggling with their groceries if you could help them. I don’t think you need to set aside time for it. Just live it.

  • Julie Parker says:

    Is anyone in your church or family adopting internationally? Most orphanages in other countries need clothing and basic items. Used clothing, blankets, cloth diapers, toys and other items will be gladly accepted. So ask around and I am sure you’ll find someone that would gladly take your donations to a needy orphanage.

  • Katherine says:

    Make Valentine’s and find a place to deliver them – like a nursing home or hospital.

  • Jennifer says:

    We have volunteered at our local animal shelter. They love to have kids come and “socialize” or pet the cats and parents can walk the dogs.

    We have also had our kids write thank you notes or draw pictures for people who donate to the shelter.

    Finally, through our cub scout den, we did a neighborhood food drive where we put a grocery bag with a note that we would pick it up the following week if people would leave it on their porches full. I noticed the girl scouts did the same thing and Christmas and caroled if there was a full bag of groceries on the porch.

  • Kristi says:

    I have friends that make a huge pot of inexpensive stew or soup (or chili if they want to “splurge”) and go to 2-3 people’s houses doling out soup and a plate of cornbread or biscuits. They always make a call earlier in the day to let people know they are coming with “supper.” This is great for working moms, shut-ins, after a new baby comes, etc. I was the beneficiary once. They brought the soup hot and just spooned it into my own bowl and moved on down the road.

  • Susie Michelle says:

    My middle schooler is required to do a certain number of community service hours each school year. The students are given suggestions via a community service bulletin board at school, but they can meet the requirement by doing virtually anything – walking dogs for the local animal shelter is popular. So is providing free babysitting services. This school requirement has helped her break out of her “giving comfort zone.” This year, she’s volunteering to help coach a youth basketball team and helping with different charity fundraisers. It’s fun to see her reaching out in new ways.

    My kids are 9, 10 and 13, and, as a family, I guess our contributions tend to be limited to those small, everyday things – just helping the kids to*notice* when they might be able to help in some way: befriending someone who’s lonely at school, singling someone out in a crowded bus or store and sending a few silent, loving thoughts toward them. We talk a lot about how each one of us has unique gifts to give in this world, and it often goes along with what we enjoy doing in the first place. It’s also interesting how different charities appeal to them so strongly, especially SmileTrain. My kids have had several lemonade stand benefits for that cause.

    I am definitely inspired by all the suggestions here (and I LOVE that We Are That Family post. Thanks for sharing it, Peever!)

  • Lorna says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! A few years ago I broke both ankles. I lived alone, had no family nearby and all my friends had full time jobs. Most things I found ways of doing but a few were just impossible, hoovering or taking out the rubbish for example. I would have valued someone coming to visit and making me a hot meal in the oven (I could only have microwave meals as I couldn’t handle pans) or even a cup of tea since I couldn’t carry a cup and use a Zimmerman frame at the same time. Just a chat would have been lovely. Two things I learnt fro m that experience – don’t ask if there is anything you can do, people will be polite and say no. If you really want to help offer something specific. And the other thing is to look beyond the elderly, much as they do often need help there are lots of younger people who might really value your contribution and get overlooked by everyone else.

  • Emily says:

    My family and I did our non- tithe giving on a zero budget last year. It included things like bringing old blankets and towels to our local animal shelter, leaving random baskets with homemade goodies on neighbor’s doorsteps, and donating our hair to Locks of Love.

  • Jessica says:

    Be a coupon fairy! Take the coupons you don’t need/use and go leave them in the grocery store near the products they are for!

  • Leighann says:

    Volunteer at the library. Let the kids practice putting the books back on the shelves, helping patrons, etc. Libraries always need volunteers, and if you start kids volunteering early they will do it their entire lives.

    Another place to volunteer is the animal shelter. The animals in there need to be petted, walked, talked to, etc. They need to be fed, and their cages cleaned. Small children can do those things, and it’s a great way to give back.

  • Jennifer says:

    My kids and I have started leaving coupons near products at the store. They love trying to find the products and then placing the coupons.

    Let them pick put a can of something at the grocery store and take it to the food bank.

  • Angi @ schneiderpeeps says:

    This past summer a friend’s father got very sick and most of his care fell on her shoulders for about 5 months. During that time we felt led to make her family a meal once a week. It was a huge blessing for us to be able to help during this time and it was just one more example to my children of how to live in community with others.

    We’ve done other service type things over the years and as my children have gotten older I see that they are so observant of when others need help. I also agree with another commenter that being helpful and giving is a habit. It’s great to start that habit when they are young.

  • Jessica says:

    Or maybe just plan 30 minutes a week as “say nice things” time. Send a message, email, or write a note telling someone what you like/love about them. People love to hear that you really noticed them- try to be specific. (Don’t just say “You are so kind”- give an actual example of their kindness). I’m trying to think of things that are free 🙂

  • kelly says:

    My son and I drive by several school crossing guards each morning. We randomly gift them with little things – a warm scarf, packages of hot chocolate tied with a ribbon, dog biscuits for the older man with the little dog……..they so appreciate it.

  • Kristin @ Fiskerelli Bellies says:

    If your local nursing home doesn’t allow visitors you can drop off homemade Valentine’s, Easter cards, etc. My grandfather is in a nursing home that has pretty strict rules about guests, but they hang this type of gift along the hallways to make the atmosphere more cheerful. The same applies to children’s hospitals.

  • Ami says:

    -make biblical valentines to pass out to store clerks and others in public
    -make hygeine/snack bags and keep in your car to give to homeless people
    -pass out COOL tracks and bottles of water (w/ cool labels?) in addition to candy if you want to participate in trick or treat
    -invite your neighbors over so you can all get to know each other
    -make it a game to show kindness and pay attention to people while you are out
    -take your neighbors treats on religious & patriotic holidays

  • KimF says:

    Get involved in 4H they do great things in the community and always need volunteers to teach or help with projects. It was a Blessing to my children which are now grown. They learned a lot of the skills they use in life now.

  • Martina says:

    when my 4 year old what he can give, because he doesn’t have a lot of money, i told him he can always give away a smile. Now my 2 year old has caught onto it and they both always give away plenty smiles and waves while we run errands.
    I also let them pick a card of an Angeltree, for a Kid their size, it teaches them that not all toys we buy are theirs, and some are just to be given others.

  • L says:

    You could volunteer at a local ministry where they box up food for needy families. You could also volunteer at a camp for people with disabilities (great for teens), or just volunteer to help watch a child with disabilities to give the family a break.

    Also random acts of kindness…holding a door for someone, paying for someone else’s coffee or meal, etc.

  • Marie says:

    I love these ideas. I have been looking into doing more with my children, ages 3 and 7, as well.

    -For his b-day my son asked guests to give donations to Operation Christmas Child, (his b-day is in Nov.) after hearing about it from Veggie Tales.
    -have the kids make Valentines’ Day cards for vets and active duty military.
    -Make homebaked goodies for Ronald McDonald House
    -Invite some poorer friends to a picnic at a lake or treat them to a musuem. We did this for several single moms and it was the first time their city kids had ever been to the lake. We got a year’s pass so we could do it as often as we wanted.
    -Before visiting an animal sanctuary we looked on their website to see what they needed. My kids had a blast going on a pinecone hunt for the birds.
    -We baked cookies for church members who hadn’t been at church for a while to let them know they weren’t forgotten.
    -Collect canned food for a local food bank
    -visit a nursing home
    -make a meal for friends after having a baby or if they are sick
    -donate gently used items to a shelter or thrift store and explain to the kids how they help people in need

  • I have had several great aunts in nursing homes and every time I would visit them the people in there would love to talk to my 4 year old niece. She would open the door for them, get them a glass of water or even sit down and put together a puzzle. The kids love it and so do the elderly.
    I have always wanted to buy a meal for a soldier. I’m waiting on that moment when I’m in line and a soldier is in front of me and I buy his meal, just to say “thank you” for all they have sacrificed. Any kindness will go a long ways. Pay it forward 🙂

  • Tabitha (a.k.a. Penny) says:

    We make homeless blessing bags. I keep them in the van and our children are always on the look-out for a homeless person so we can give them a bag. You can read more about it here: http://www.meetpenny.com/2011/12/giving-to-the-homeless-homeless-blessing-bags/

  • Lisa says:

    How about hosting a similar-age child(ren) from a single parent family to play so she can go get a haircut or grocery shop in peace?

  • Carrie says:

    I agree–offer babysitting! What’s adding a few more kids?? 🙂

    Do you know what you can give for free? Your ears. Listen to people. I’m amazed at the number of people I come into with who just need someone to LISTEN to them. Call up a friend who you know is going through some stuff and just let her talk. Don’t try to fix other people’s problems, just listen to them. And when that’s over, pray for them. That’s free, too!

  • MRS M. says:

    START A VEGETABLE & FRUIT GROWING GARDEN CLUB FOR unHOUSED HOMELESS.

    ASK RELIGIOUS GROUPS TO HELP.

    HOMELESS SHELTERs are OVERCROWDED and REFUSING ADDITONAL ADMITTTANCE.

    MANY FEMALE exHOMEOWNERS LIVE ON THE STREET.

    STARVATION IS RAMPANT.

  • I absolutely love doing service projects with my kiddos! I have really been having fun coming up with some ideas that are easy, affordable and flexible with your time schedule:
    1. Make Homeless packets to keep in your car: A gallon baggie filled with a water bottle, box of raisins, granola bar, pack of gum, and maybe a note or a dollar.

    2. Make laundry packets to help people out at the laundry mat: gallon baggie filled with: magazine, samples of luandry detergent, softner, stain wipes, and quarters.

    3. Go to McDonalds and buy several apples pies and have your kids pass them out.

    4. Find a local food bank and see if they allow kids to come and volunteer there. We have a Convoy of Hope here and we go on Tuesday evenings together. My kids love it!

    5. Do a day of random acts of kindess with your kids and tape notes with a quarter to a bubble gum machine or candy machine. Tape a note with a dollar on the toy aisle at the Dollar Store.

    6. Make a few permanent flower pots with tissue paper flowers and kids can decorate the pot and take them to a nursing home. j

    7. Get some good deals on cat or dog food and donate to your local animal shelter. They are always needing bleach and old bedding as well.

    I have a ton of ideas! This is my all time favorite thing to do with my kiddos!

  • heather says:

    We have a woman in our church who has a disability & struggles at times with the little things. We do little things for her throughout the year. If we have leftovers, we take them to her, we buy her shampoo, her favorite soap or something extra special for her birthday or a special day. I know you want to reach more people but every church family has a member who needs some extra love. We always discuss with the kids that we want to do extra for this woman because God wants us to treat others with love. They always love doing things for her.

  • Marie says:

    I love these ideas. I’ve been looking at doing more with my kids ages 7 and 3.

    -For his b-day my son had guests bring a donation for Operation Christmas Child, (his b-day is in Nov).
    -Make Valentine’s Day Cards for vets and military
    -Before going to an animal sanctuary we looked online for what they need. The kids had a great time going on a pine cone hunt for the birds.
    -Bake cookies for people who haven’t been to church in a while
    -visit a nursing home
    -when I was a kid I waited until my neighbor drove off then raked his leaves
    -Make baked goods for the Ronald McDonald House, fire station…
    – Donate gently used items to a local shelter or thrift store and explain how they help people in need
    -Take needy families, (for us it was mostly single moms at church) on a trip to a lake or to a museum. We purchased a year’s pass so we could do this as often as we wanted. For some of the city kids, it was the first time they had been to a lake.
    -I usually have my kids straighten up the kids section of the library or museum even when they didn’t make the mess

  • Andrea says:

    Take your children to the nursing home to visit the elderly. Some of those people have little family and very much appreciate getting a visit. And your kids might enjoy having some extra honorary grandparents.

    • Meredith says:

      Yes, this is the BEST idea out there. The elderly love to have kids around (and if you have pets too!). Just call ahead of time of course. Also, if any of your kids play musical instruments, they would love a “concert” from them. I actually do this professionally (the music part)….I get paid but trust me, the homes would take you for free and LOVE IT!

  • Nichole says:

    Just before Christmas or a birthday we go through our toys and choose 2 that can be donated. Not only does this make way for what’s coming it also teaches that we should give before we receive. (Just make sure you have rules like not choosing the long forgotten happy meal toy in the closest with a missing arm)
    Check your local area around Thanksgiving for programs that need people to host. We hosted airmen in basic training in San Antonio who could not leave basic to be with their families.

  • Julie says:

    When my kids were little we lived near an old-folks home. The residents just loved to see the kids. You could play games, go visit, have the kids make them Valentine’s cards and hand deliver, etc.

  • I love doing service projects with my kids! It teaches them so much! Here are a few ideas and I do ideas on my blog as well: http://www.my3ringcircus.org/

    1. Homeless Packets: Fill gallon baggies with water bottle, snacks like granola bar, box of raisins, pack of gum and maybe a note of kindess or a dollar.

    2. Make a permanent flower pot for nursing home residents with tissue paper flowers and have the kids decorate the pot.

    3. go to an animal shelter and donate cat and dog food. They also need bleach and old bedding.

    4. Laundry packets: Gallon baggie filled with magazine, samples of laundry detergent, softner, stain sample, and quarters and take to your local laundry mat.

    5. Go to McDonalds and buy several apple pies (they are 2 for $1) and have your kids pass them out.

    6. Have a random acts of kindness day and go around to places and leave notes on bathroom mirrors that say “You are Special”
    go to the dollar store and attach a note with a dollar on the toy aisle. Go to a place with a gumball or candy machine and attach a note with a Quarter to it. All kinds of nice things you can do!

  • I posted a whole list of ideas but it is not showing up for some reason!

  • mentalutopia says:

    I highly recommend reading the book _52 Weeks of Fun Family Service_ by Merrilee Boyack. Another book with great ideas on easy ways anyone can give is _How To Be An Everyday Philanthropist_ by Nicole Bouchard Boles. Both are chock full of great ideas for families with kids.

  • Polly says:

    We have 6 kiddos nine years old and under who attend public school. Every once in a while, the kids go through their rooms and look for small toys (like rings and cars) to give to the teachers at school for the treasure boxes.

    We also donate gently used books to the classrooms.

    And the nurse’s office is always looking for clothing of all sizes for those kiddos who have something happen at school (the clothes don’t always get returned).

    We even found out that the 5th grade class needed glass baby jars for a Pioneer Day, so the baby was even able to get involved in the giving!

    Whenever you have something to donate, you can check with the nearest school and see if it’s something they could use. My kids love seeing their friends read their books at school or pick their toy out of the treasure box, and it saves the teacher from having to buy it herself (or himself).

    We’ve even donated art supplies we from projects we were finished with to the art teacher (after checking with her, of course!)

  • Let me try again! Here are ideas I have tried with my kiddos or are going to do!

    Make Homeless packets: gallon size baggies filled with water bottle, granola bar, box of raisins, pack of gum, and maybe a kind note or a dollar.
    Make Laundry packets: gallon size baggies filled with magazines, sample size laundry soap, softner, stain sample, and quarters.
    Visit the local animal shelter: they always need cat and dog food, bleach, and old bedding.
    Make permanent flower pots for the nursing home: have your kids make tissue paper flowers and they can decorate or paint he pots and take them to the nursing home.
    call your local food bank. We have a Convoy of Hope and every Tuesday evening is open night where families or groups can go to volunteer. My kids love it.
    Go to McDonalds and order apple pies. They are 2 for $1 and let your kids pass them out. We did this on Christmas Eve.
    Have a random acts of kindness day and go around maybe to the dollar store and attach a note with a dollar and leave it on the toy aisle. Go to a spot with a candy or gumball machine and leave a note with a quarter attached. So many easy affordabe ideas! One of my favorite things to do!

  • Chris says:

    We have had several elderly neighbors living near us in a neighborhood with old trees. Sometimes just picking up sticks is a HUGE help (after an ice storm, we helped pick up shingles-our neighbor was thrilled!) How about pulling weeds? I also remember threading needles for an elderly friend who still loved to sew but just couldn’t get the needles threaded….I just threaded several needles on many spools of thread to make it easier for her. My son reminded me that I was adamant about him holding doors open for not just elderly & ladies but people w/ canes, wheelchairs, & strollers. Another friend still talks about the time I came over & cleaned her house after she came home w/ her new baby & made her just SIT on the couch & relax. Teach your children to love helping & pretty soon they’ll be looking for ways to “give” to others.

  • Monica says:

    I have 3 small children. I’ve gotten them in the habit of saving/giving what we do not need. For example, clothes that are not wearable by others (socks w/ holes in them) we collect in a bag to donate to a ‘red box’ that recycles them into new things. We collect box tops, soup labels, ink cartridges for the local school. Pop can tabs for the Ronald Mcdonald house. It’s fun to see them take notice if I’ve missed a box top or pop tab! We have yearly garage sales but what we do not sell the kids help me sort into toys, boys clothes, girls clothes etc. I reach out via for people who need stuff. The kids help me deliver it. If no one wants it, we donate it to our church or clothing center.

  • Conni says:

    When our children were young, we would go to the local nursing home and sing songs to them. Sometimes we would make cards, pictures, or place mats (for the dining room) and take with to give to the residents. Also, once a month, we would take our dogs in for the residents to pet and cuddle.

  • Dawn says:

    One thing that my kids used to do when they were younger was to go to the nursing homes or senior care facilities and “adopt a grandparent”. You could take them once a week, month or whatever fits your schedule. There are so many elderly people in these homes that have no one to visit them. The kids could bring them a card or picture that they make or play cards with that person. The activities director can help you set this up.

  • Abby says:

    A quick, nearly free activity would be to print some high value coupons and leave them on the shelf in the store, next to the product. I recently did this with a $10 baby formula coupon. I don’t use formula, but I couldn’t pass up a $10 coupon. You could turn it into a scavenger hunt for your children by allowing them to find the product that matches the coupon.

  • Simone says:

    We try to access some of the Giving Catalogue, like the ones from Tear Australia, they have a website http://www.usefulgifts.org/ We as a family have bought school supplies, fish farming etc. My 4 kids can pick what that want to give. The school supplies fits in with 3 of my kids going to school, and they like to purchase something that they can relate to.

    What a lovely thing to encourage in our children to help others

  • Betty Stark says:

    I donate my expired, unused coupons (not printed ones) to our overseas vets & families.
    I have the address if you email I will give it to you. Only costs postage and some time cutting coupons. Sure kids would like to help and feel good about doing it. I do

  • Julie says:

    Every time we go grocery shopping, we keep a discipline of buying one item for the food pantry. It reminds us to always think of others.

  • Cheryl Barnett Saves says:

    Just say hello.
    It may seem to easy and weird but new neighbors move in head over and say hello. Bring circulars for the stores in the area, restaurant pamphlets and places kids can go to do things or the closest library.
    It is something I found hard when I moved to a new city where I knew no one and did not even know which stores were in the area.
    Ask what they are interested in and looking for if they don’t know the area. It may seem like a small thing but would have helped me greatly if someone told me where things were.

  • Amanda says:

    1) Living in an area where we have to set out 3 cans on garbage day (garbage, recycle, compost), it would be SUCH a treat to magically see them all back by my garage off the street. Might sound trivial, but for those of us who work outside the home, it would be soooo nice to come home and see that little task taken care of 🙂

    2) Contact a local family shelter, and ask about providing a birthday party once a month to any children living there. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy – make and frost a box cake, candles, balloons from the dollar store. If you want to do it more than once, maybe invest in a polaroid to give the kids a picture of their birthday party.

    3) On that note, our church used to assemble and donate “birthday boxes” to the local food pantry. Usually not more than $5 total, and it all went into a shoe box: cake mix, frosting can, box of candles, generic greeting card. Your kids could even make the birthday cards for a special touch.

  • Carrie says:

    Special Olympics is always looking for people to help with events, practices, set up and tear downs. While doing this your children will also be able to learn about good sportsman ship in a way that is rarely ever seen and they will also learn about people with disablites. Even if you kids are little they can go and cheer on the atletes and they will make a lot of people very happy.

    I have a disabled adult child and the smile on his face when someone he doesnt know is willing to talk to him or help us with a door is just amazing.

    If there is a Ronald McDonald house in your area you might call and see if they have things around there house that you and kids could do.

  • Terri Simmons says:

    We homeschooled our three. A favorite treat was to arrange a lunch date with an older person from church – but we brought them lunch and stayed to share it with them. Older people often get just plain lonely and this gave them company without the pressure of supplying a lunch.

    Our favorite experience was helping a very old couple make Valentine’s for each other. We took all the supplies and then split up into separate rooms. The wife later said that she hadn’t had a Valentine from her husband in years so she treasured the one he made for her. It was precious.

  • Lori says:

    You could host a diaper drive to support your local pregnancy center. They are always in need of diapers and wipes.

  • K says:

    We save all the change that we find in odd places in our house. We keep a jar on the dryer. As that jar fills up, we donate the money to the missions work at our church. My kids were so excited when they were little, when they would find a coin because they could put it in the jar. It was a small thing, but they learned about giving to others.

  • Cynthia says:

    Be the welcome wagon in your neighborhood, church, town, etc. You’d be amazed how appreciated just a visit and a follow-up is to someone new in town who’s still learning the ropes of their new community. You may make a new friend for life!
    Also, as much as I’m a big proponent of serving at food kitchens and local assistance sources such as St. Vincent de Paul, I would also suggest (as many others have) just looking around your neighborhood and community circles and really listening to what is happening in others’ lives. Maybe someone recently lost a job and isn’t to the point that they are in need of assistance from an organization or food stamps, but would greatly appreciate your sur pantry items as they stretch their emergency budget in between jobs. Or playing with their children for an hour or cleaning their house so they can spend that time on their job search. Or perhaps there is someone who recently lost a family member or has been sick with the flu for a few weeks and would just enjoy the surprise of a warm meal brought to their door and a bit of conversation. The scenarios are endless, but sometimes it’s not only the most desperate and destitute that we need to serve, but those who just need a pick-me-up for the time being. Sometimes even a very small act of kindness can be someone else’s saving grace.

  • Maggi Windhorst says:

    Pray! People can always use extra prayers. We saved our Christmas Card this year and we are letting the kids pull out one from the pile each week. We then spend the week praying for that family. I drop the family an email to let them know that our family will be praying for their health, wisdom in following the Lord’s path for their family and peace, love and joy in their home. I also ask if they have any specific they would like us to pray for. The kids are going to start making pictures and cards that we will send out at the end of the week to that family.

    • Sarah says:

      This is so great. People are quick to say, “I’ll pray for you” but how many actually do it and even let others know they have?

  • Jennifer says:

    I walk my dogs daily and am always disgusted when I see trash on the ground, one day when I was walking one of my dogs I saw a woman and her small boy picking up trash as they were walking!! I was so inspired, to know there are still people who set those great example for their kids is fantastic!!

  • bberg says:

    The last year my nanny was in the nursing home. At Christmas we wrapped packaged cheese & crackers for each resident and handed them out during a Christmas party. They were so excited to open a gift no matter how small to us. Their smiles were awesome!

  • Kathy says:

    I am SO inspired reading all that your readers do to help others, Crystal! No one can truly say they don’t know anyone they can help. People in need are ALL around us.

    I already vote this as the best blog post/comments of 2012! 🙂

  • Scott says:

    We have an ‘adopted’ family that we send toiletries and food to each month. This is through family-to-family.org. Shipping is covered in our area by a local trucking company – we send letters and cards each month with our package. We’ve had our same family for about 5 years. My children love to help with the shopping and packing of the boxes. Not exactly what you were talking about but it is a ministry that the whole family can be involved in!

  • Sarah says:

    Hold a Free sale at your local Walmart give away cookies and out grown clothing you will be shocked at how greatful people are in this economy!

  • Jennifer says:

    We had our daughter pick out anything she wanted from the World Vision catalog to give to those in need. (she is 5) We told her she could pick anything she wanted and she picked a bunny. Which also happens to be only $16. I think this will be good because we can save the money quickly and she can see results and then choose something different for the next thing to give. We just wanted to give her a way to how saving money and not spending unnecessarily can be a blessing to others. And in a way that she can understand. She is always on the lookout for change and is telling me not to spend money so we can give it away. Love it!

  • Gwen says:

    Our children range in age from 10 down to 3 years. This month we made marmalade together (you could also make fruit jams or other preserves). We put labels on the jars ( we just reused empty glass jars and sterilised with hot water) saying ‘From the kitchen of (our) family’ and have been giving them as gifts.

  • cowgirlbyebye says:

    The FFA had a program when I was in high school called BOAC (Building Our American Communities). The concept could be managed by all age groups. Since we were older, we moslty went to people homes and trimmed bushes, picked up trash, and other general duties in the yard. We only did as much as we could do within the one-hour class period. This past year, when the FFA held their state convention in my city, I was surprised to see the visiting out of town schools had brought canned goods to donate to the local food bank.

    Also, I have served meals at shelters and worked along side very young children, who did the same work as the adults such as food prep, serving, and wating on patrons. Last summer, two young girls in my neighborhood issued notices door to door that they were holding a clothing drive and would be by on a specified day to pick up any donations. They were very young, worked very hard, and I apprecaited their kindness and gestures to help someone else. Good luck in your quest.

  • Daina says:

    One way I’ve found I can help even when I’m wrangling a small child is to bring lunch when someone’s moving — for them and everyone helping pack. Little kids might be underfoot when the actual packing and loading is going on, but people sure appreciate not having to worry about food when they’ve packed up all their earthly possessions! My menus so far have included sandwiches, cold salad and watermelon in the summer and calzones, veggie sticks and apples in winter. Easy to eat and clean up… and I leave any leftovers with the people moving if they want them for a snack or dinner (if they’re at their new house already and have someplace to put them.)

  • gloria says:

    I have learned a lot since August about childrens cancer. There are lots of ways to help the children as well as their families. I have two little friends I keep track of on Caringbridge.com which is kept online by donations ,the site lets the moms of the sick children write their daily news and feelings etc and gives everyone the chance to see how things are progressing.The mom of one of the little girls just put a note on and it is about going into the hospital to start more chemo and seeing a family gathered around a family room where Drs. talk to the families of children who arent going to make it . The little girls I write notes to love getting Mail any kind of mail,pictures your kids could draw, I sent a tutu ,crown and wand from the dollar store and the little girl was able to be a princess and had somethng new to play with in bed. It was very inexpensive and she had fun. These children also have siblings at home who need encouragement ,maybe certificates for snacks at Mcdonalds for example where the parent or family members take care of them at home can go for a minute to enjoy themselves. Prayers are free and they need a lot of those,see if someone in your church knows of someone like those little cancer patients who need cards,pictures ,prayers and just something to look forward to. It makes me feel go to know Iam helping.We also need to find out more about childhood cancer and give it as much attention as any other cancer gets so we can get more funding and people giving to help for research. The little ones I know go to the hospital at Oklahoma university childrens cancer center and im sure there is a social worker at that hospital, and ST.Judes and so many others to suggest people and ways you can help.A way I thought of to help when the saddest news comes that one of the children has passed ,you could donate to help with costs ,even funeral and memorial stones costs.

  • Ali says:

    Going to an area nursing home when it is NOT a holiday is sooo encouraging to the residents there. Some of them just want a hug or just to talk. Feel your children out on this one because younger children sometimes do not do well in these situations.

    My family has started going on family mission trips with Eight Days of Hope. They are very family-friendly and I have even seen moms with infants there. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach your children to help others after a time of natural disaster. The next trip will be in May in NC to help in the rebuilding after Hurricane Irene. There are jobs for painting, debris cleanup, carpentry, etc. Check it out and see if it is right for your family.

  • Bethany says:

    I’ve gotten several new ideas reading these comments. Our kids are 6 and under and some of the things we’ve done include:
    *participate in local crisis pregnancy center and/or mission “walks” to raise money and awareness
    *donate toys to the local fire station (year round) to be used at Christmas giveaways.
    *reach out to neighbors – we’ve taken little gifts (flowers, notes, etc) on special days like Veteran’s Day or just as “Happy Spring” to people on our block – most of whom are retired.
    *they offer to help teachers carry bags in to the church each week, and have been taught to open the door and greet people as the arrive for Wednesday night service.
    *we are slowly working on teaching the 6 year old to shovel walks this winter. he’s good at our place and we’re ready to branch out ;).
    *the local Mission was mentioned above, but our mission (which is a very good one by-the-way!) has a wish list every Christmas where you get partnered with one resident. You get their three Christmas wishes ($15 or less) and buy and wrap the gifts, then drop them off at the mission before their Xmas party. This was fun for the kids since we’ve done their annual walk for a couple years now – and now they can participate in more ways.

    • Betty G. says:

      When you are grocery shopping, pick up items to give to a food pantry that are free with coupons or almost free. Take the children to the local food pantry to donate the food. You can also ask if you and the children can help put the food on the shelves at the food pantry, and help fill bags if the food pantry gives out food that way.
      Locally, I belonged to a Retired Navy Auxiliary that sadly “Didn’t know a poor family” to whom to give a donation of $100 at Christmas. I was the one person in the Auxiliary who knew more than one family that could use that $100 at Christmas. One poor family I knew got it one year and another the next year.
      Locally, I fill a food pantry using coupons. I give a local Homeless Shelter for Women and Children diaper coupons, sanitary napkin coupons, and any items I get free or almost free. Also, my coupon club gives donations to this facility.
      My daughter does the Walk for the Homeless with our church. I sponsor her, so much a mile. Then, I sit at the finish line to meet her. While she is walking, people give me donations of money, food and clothing which my Miniser picks up at the end of the walk. Although I can’t walk the 3 1/2 miles, there is there is something I can do. The first year, I collected $300 in addition to the food and clothing.
      I congratulate you for wanting to help your children learn to help others.

    • Betty G. says:

      A few more things. I would take my granddaughter to the Red Cross with me. She would help make the Comfort Kits for disaster victims which includes a toothbrush, soap, comb, razor, deodorant, shampoo, wrapped in a washcloth and towel. She also sat through the CPR class at age 12 so they certified her. She took the test with me and passed.
      My daughter, granddaughter and I made bag lunches for a local food pantry that fed men, women and children on Saturday. We had an assembly line with the 3 of us for making the egg salad, then the sandwiches, the fruit, the chips and then bagging it. My granddaughter always enjoyed it. Ironically, it was the same food pantry/soup kitchen for which I’d volunteered over 20 yrs. before when I was unemployed. When my daughter spoke from the pulpit in church one week, she mentioned that we were passing the volunteering from one generation to another.

  • John | Married (with Debt) says:

    Great question. It would be nice to see people giving in a public way, that way the effect of the giving is multiplied. Not only do you have the benefit of the act, people who witness it may be inspired to join you.

    Next time you pick up fast food, pay for your order and pay for the car behind you. Little things like this, in addition to larger charitable acts, could become contagious.

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