Inside: Spread kindness as a family through this Family Volunteer Challenge for May by helping people who are food insecure.
There are so many different causes in the world to help. So many volunteer opportunities. So many ways to give to others.
But the one that has always pulled me in, and affected me the most is this unsettling statistic: 1 in 6 American kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
These kids are described as food insecure.
Their pantries and refrigerators are bare and they don’t have consistent access to food for all the family members living with them.
Free and Reduced school breakfasts and lunches help these children, but it often isn’t enough…especially when school is out of session.
Communities tend to have food drives during November and December to fill the banks for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But the much more crucial time is to fill the food banks during the summer months when school is out and breakfasts and lunches aren’t available to the 22 million students who rely on these free and reduced meal programs.
This month’s Family Volunteer Challenge is to help fill those food banks as we head into the summer months to offset the increased need for food pantries and their services.
Our families can directly help families who are hungry. We can fill bellies and add a little security by focusing on making more food available to the families in our community who need it.
Why it’s Important to Volunteer with our Kids:
We are raising kind kids. We expect it, we praise it and we model it.
Related: How to Raise Kinder Kids
And we tend to focus on the quiet, normal, everyday moments of kindness.
Holding the door for the person behind you.
Picking up something someone dropped.
Offering your seat to someone who needs it.
But there’s also bigger, grander, more time-consuming acts of kindness that falls more into the volunteering category of kindness:
Times when we donate to our local food bank.
Or collect all our old jackets and take them to a shelter that needs them.
Or when we take a taco to someone who’s really hungry.
Our kindness may not change the world. But it can change the world for the people we help.
And it instills in my children the fact that volunteering and acts of service are a normal part of lives.
Helping others doesn’t need to be a once a year activity during December when we donate a toy or two.
People are hungry year round.
Animal shelters are full year round.
Kids are sick year round.
And we can help. Because we are helpers. We are raising our kids to be helpers.
As an added bonus (as if we needed one more reason) volunteering as a family is an incredible way to connect as a family and build a strong family identity.
So teaching our kids to give to others who are less fortunate than ourselves is a true gift.
And volunteering is one of the easiest ways to help kids practice being compassionate. Compassion is feeling others’ pain or hardship or suffering and then being prompted to take action to relieve that suffering.
Many families want to donate and volunteer but it feels too hard.
And they don’t know where to volunteer or how easy it really is to make a significant difference.
So we’re here to make it easier for you with the Family Volunteer Challenge for May.
How the Family Volunteer Challenge Works:
Every month, we’ll post a family-friendly service activity you and your kids can do together.
It’s 12 months, 1 activity each month, 10-30 minutes each month.
And it’ll be super easy.
We’ll give you a suggestion.
You can run with it, tweak it, make it your own, or scrap it and do something totally different.
Your only tasks are to commit to doing this as a family, talk about what you’re doing and why with your kids so it has a lasting impact, and then protect the time on your calendar so it doesn’t get pushed back.
And it also has to come with this crucial caveat…you can only do this Family Volunteer Challenge if you do it with no guilt.
- No guilt that you didn’t start it sooner. You’re starting now and that’s incredible.
- No guilt if one month, life got in the way and you skipped it. You can do it next month, no worries.
- No guilt if you think your kids are selfish and self-centered and are ungrateful. They probably are but that’s not their fault or yours. It’s how their brain is wired and we can turn giving to others and being generous into a learned habit.
Okay, now that we’re guilt-free, let’s start spreading some kindness.
12 Months of Volunteering as a Family:
Before we jump into May’s volunteering activity, you can check out past month’s volunteer activities in case you missed it and want to do more.
May’s Volunteer Challenge:
For May, we’re focusing on helping families that don’t have enough food in their homes or bellies.
So many families don’t have the food they need to feed their families. When I was a child, I inaccurately assumed these were poor people who were homeless and lived in their cars.
And while homeless families are food insecure, so many food insecure families live in homes, apartments, and neighborhoods just like ours.
But due to high bills and low wages, medical bills, or unexpected unemployment, for so many families, there’s always more month and the end of the money.
They can’t afford to buy food in large quantities or fresh food that is healthy. They can’t feed their babies. And I can’t imagine a worse feeling than working yourself to the bones and still not having enough to provide food for your children.
But we can help fill those pantries and refrigerators and bellies.
Do the Family Volunteer Challenge for May now:
There are several ways to help get food to the families near you who need it most.
1. Google your closest food bank or food pantry or use Feed America’s search function and download their wish list.
Take the wishlist with you when you grocery shop and add a few items each trip to your basket. Ask your kids what they’d like to purchase or to hunt for things off the list that are on sale. When you’ve accumulated a bag or two of food, drop it off to your local food pantry with your kids, then start again.
Adding a few items to your grocery list each trip makes it a little easier to “absorb” the cost of adding to your grocery bill.
2. If you’re not grocery shopping in person, Google your closest city’s food bank and make a donation online with your kids.
There are online food drives in every major city. And because they have major buying power, your money will go a long way to helping a lot of families.
Or, many food pantries have Amazon shopping lists that will get sent directly to them.
3. Create your own online food drive with Feed America.
Encourage your kids to ask friends and family and neighbors to consider donating money to “buy” food. $4 at the grocery store will buy you one package of 8 protein granola bars. But, $4 cash donated to the food bank I volunteer at will buy 400 granola bars.
4. Host a Summer Food Drive at your school or religious organization or scouting event.
My kids’ school encouraged them to bring in one canned item every Friday and put it in the box as they came into the school assembly. We’ve hosted scouting events where admission was canned items. And we’ve of course donated to food drives around all the major holidays.
We’ve also stood outside of a grocery store as a scouting event handing out wish list items from our local food pantry to shoppers. As they shopped they grabbed a few items off the list, left the items with us and we donated them. We made it easy for other people to donate with us and our donation became impactful.
5. When you hear of a local food drive, offer to be the drop off family
Reach out to friends and families and neighbors to make sure they know about the food drive. Let them know they can drop the items off to your front porch and your family will take on the task of dropping it off at the specific time and place for the food drive. For many people, donating isn’t the issue. It’s the time and remembering to take the items in that’s the hurdle. By volunteering to do this for others, you set others up to easily help.
6. Volunteer at a food bank
Spend time with your family at a local food bank doing tasks they need done.
My family sorted and bagged jam packets and salad dressing packets so adult volunteers could easily grab them the next day when they were making food packages for the families the food bank services.
My kids absolutely loved their hour working and begged to do it again.
Talk about it:
Explain to your kids that when they open their pantry or refrigerator they’ll always find food. They may not find their favorite treat, or you may run out of their favorite yogurt flavor or fruit before your next grocery store visit, but there’s always food. I tell my kids that when they were younger, some months there wasn’t as much meat or there weren’t the fancy cookies because money was tight, but they always had enough food to feel full and enough food to know they were going to have enough for their next meal.
But kids need to know that not every family is that lucky. Many kids…even kids that go to their school…may not have food in their home or enough food for everyone that lives in their home. These kids may have very little to eat as they wait for their mom and dad to get paid or until they can get food from somewhere else. And many kids go to bed with no dinner or a very small dinner or come to school with no breakfast.
If you need help explaining it to younger kids, here’s how we do it: Sometimes people don’t have enough money to pay for everythign they need to pay for. Sometimes they need all the money they have to pay for their house or apartment and pay for the lights and the car they need to get to work. So sometimes, those families don’t have enough money to buy food they need. The kids in these families are hungry and sometimes have to go to bed hungry because there are no snacks, no fruit, no veggies, no bread, no cereal and no treats. If they don’t have food, they have to wait to get to school to eat breakfast and lunch or they have to hope someone will share their food with them.
You can also read books to help kids really understand:
Have a conversation with your kiddos after they donate food or host their food drive about how easy it was to add items to our cart or help others remember to add food to the box.
Remind them of how simple it was to ask others to help donate food to those who need it.
And you can ask them these questions:
What would it be like if you were hungry and didn’t have any food in your pantry or refrigerator?
If we don’t help these families who need help, who will?
How did it feel to donate food to the food bank?
Celebrate and Spread the Word:
Be proud of your volunteering and let your kids know you’re proud of them. Celebrate the time your family spent together donating food or hosting a food drive or volunteering at a food bank.
And share the Family Volunteer Challenge for May with other families. Kindness is contagious. Challenge other families to join you by asking them to donate with you or help you with your next food drive.
One can of food, one jam packet, one box of cereal might mean everything to a family that is food insecure and hungry.