A friend recently asked me for volunteer ideas for families with small children. At first, I felt a little embarassed, thinking we hadn’t done much with the kids yet. But, I was thinking too big. We have done some things I could recommend, they don’t have to be huge, all-day things or weekly commitments.
One I can vouch for this time of year is delivering Thanksgiving trimmings to needy families through the The Open Door Mission’s Drumsticks on Wheels. Any age can do this with you. We did it when Farley was an infant and slept the whole time; if they’re awake, they can come to the door with you to deliver the food.
Another great opportunity for older kids is to serve meals to homeless and near-homeless people. My teenage nephew and I served breakfast together once at the Siena/Francis House, the region’s largest shelter. It’s not for the very young, though – the minimum age is 12. You can prep and serve food at the Open Door Mission as well. An experience like this impacts you for life; I think families should do it at least once.
Even kids as young as toddlers can help collect food in front of grocery stores. I tried it out when Farley was about 2. Granted, he needed frequent breaks (he made several tours of the grocery store with my niece one year), but it was worth bringing him along. If your company holds can food drives at stores around the holidays, sign your kids up to go with you.
And when warm weather rolls around, so do charity 5Ks and the like. You and your family can help in a couple ways with these. You can participate, of course, or you can help behind the scenes. I’ve helped man water stations for Team in Training at a couple races. While it’s mostly adults, I’ve seen school-age kids be really helpful at the TNT water stop at races like Run For Justin – they have a lot of fun! They can hand out the water glasses or simply cheer the runners as they go by. The Omaha Marathon would also be a good race for volunteers.
Here are some more volunteer ideas for families:
Adopt a Family – Star 104.5 has a great program where you can “adopt a family” for the holidays. You purchase a grocery store gift card and gifts for the children (adult gifts are optional). The one time I did this, you were able to request the size of the family, so if your budget is tight, you can still stay within your means. I did it pre-kids, so I can only speculate that kids would enjoy the chance to shop for others.
Bell Ringers – There are no age limits on ringing bells for the Salvation Army. They do ask that youth under the age of 16 must have their parent’s permission to ring and that under the age of 14 will have adult supervision while volunteering. If your little ones are like mine, standing still for too long is not in the cards, so I’d wait a few more years.
Donate toys – There are several toy drives in the metro. Kids can shop with you and help you pick out appropriate toys. Toys for Tots and the Salvation Arm’s Angel Tree program are two that have drop offs at several businesses, or you can do one like Substitute Santa Drive at Child Saving Institute with a one-site drop off.
Sort toys – Children 13+ can come along with you to volunteer at Open Door Mission’s Project Santa Drive Thru Christmas. You might hand out toy bags, gift books, candy bags, traffic patrol, or sort items for low income families to take home.
Any time of year
Donate items – Places like the Open Door Mission and the Siena/Francis House always have a needs list. Take your little ones shopping for what’s needed and then bring them with you to deliver them. It may surprise a kid that some don’t have basic items like soap and socks. If you are a family of animal lovers, animal shelters are also always in need of donated items. Check out the Nebraska Humane Society’s wish list.
Clean a park – There are special days designated for community cleanup, but you don’t have to wait for one. Walk around your favorite park with your kids and pick up litter any day of the week.
Your turn: Where does your family like to volunteer?