As the summer is starting to transition to the fall and we’re more than halfway through the year, I’m starting to reflect on some of the goals I had for this year. On New Year’s Day for the past two years, I’ve had the same thoughts on a change I wanted to make for the New Year. Not so much a New Year’s Resolution, as committing to putting focus into an area I don’t feel I spend enough time on – volunteering with kids and teaching them to give back to others who are less fortunate. It seems like an easy goal, but with the hectic pace of school, work, kids’ activities, chores, and trying to have a social life, it’s been easy for this intention to fall by the wayside.
Growing up, I was lucky to have parents who were always trying to find ways to give back to the community and help others. My parents would volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and be active in the United Way. I remember my dad ringing the bell and collecting United Way donations at Christmastime in front of our local KMart. My mom would invite friends, nuns, and priests without Thanksgiving plans to join us on Thanksgiving and share our meal. I’m grateful for the giving spirit they demonstrated. For this reason, I hope to do the same for my kids.
Life is busy and it’s hard to make time to give back. Due to having 3 little ones, one of my struggles has been finding volunteer opportunities that I can involve them in. Do you struggle with this as well? Do you need some ideas or motivation to get you started in volunteering with kids? I know that I do. So I’ve put together some ideas and hope you’ll find the list and resources below helpful.
13 Ideas for Volunteering With Kids
1. Breakfast bags for the Ronald McDonald House
The families staying at RMH are usually in a rush to get to the hospital in the morning, so grab-and-go breakfast bags provide them with food to eat on the way to the hospital or a snack to eat during the day. Kids as young as 2 can help with decorating and stuffing the bags.
What to do:
- Call your nearest Ronald McDonald House location to find out if they accept breakfast bags and if they have guidelines for what to put in the bags.
- Go grocery shopping and pick out packaged items like pop-tarts, cereal bars, applesauce, fruit, and drinks. Don’t forget to buy brown paper bags. Please note that RMH does not accept homemade items.
- Have the kids help decorate the bags with stickers, crayons, and markers
- Set up all the bags and food items, and let the kids help stuff the bags
- Deliver the bags to RMH
2. Deliver Lunch for Meals on Wheels
If you’re home during the day and have your own car, consider gathering the kids and taking an hour to deliver meals to seniors. Pick up the food from Meals on Wheels and follow the pre-determined route while visiting seniors in your area. The commitment level is up to you – deliver meals monthly, weekly, or whenever you have time.
3. Collect cards for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital
Throughout the year I save greeting cards, then in January, I cut the backs off so that St Jude’s Children’s Hospital can re-use them in their Recycled Card Program. St. Jude’s will re-purpose the card fronts and sell the cards. The funds go towards programs that provide work and life skills to teens.
How can you get the kids involved? Have the kiddos help cut the backs off of the cards. They can also help check that none of the cards are from a brand that is not accepted (American Greetings, Hallmark, or Disney). Kids are great at helping you to remember to save cards throughout the year, as well. I know that some days my oldest daughter has a much better memory for those types of things than I do.
4. Participate in a walk or run
There are so many great organizations out there to support. Choose a cause that is near and dear to your heart and find out when their next charity walk or run takes place. Many of these races have a 1-mile family walk as well as kids run, making it easy to get the little ones involved too. Here are some of the most popular races:
- American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life
- American Heart Association’s Heart Walk
- March of Dimes’ March for Babies
- Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure
5. Sort food at a food bank
Make a difference for people in our community suffering from hunger. Many food banks rely entirely on the goodwill of volunteers. Find your local food bank and spend some time sorting or packing food, preparing food, or delivering food. Some foodbanks also grow their own food and offer gardening opportunities.
Age requirements vary – my nearest foodbank has opportunities starting at 10 years old, and the next closest food bank offers opportunities for kids as young as 6. Check out the website or call to make sure they can accommodate your young ones.
6. Serve a meal at a soup kitchen
Get first-hand experience meeting and serving those in need of a warm meal. Find soup kitchens in your state. Soup kitchens offer free meals on the same day every week around dinnertime, so there are lots of opportunities to fit this into your schedule. Alternatively, there are many churches that also offer free meals and need volunteers.
7. Clean up a park
Ever notice that there is a lot of litter at a local park you go to with your kids? Talk to your kids about being good stewards of the earth and taking care of our environment.
The next time you go to the park, bring gloves and plastic bags, and pick up all the trash you see for 10 minutes before you hit the playground or go on a hike. This will help to beautify a space you like to visit and keep litter out of our bodies of water.
8. Help out at an animal shelter
Animal shelters are always in need of people to help clean and care for the animals they take care of. You can sign up to feed, clean, groom, or walk the animals that are waiting for a good home. Do a Google search for animal shelters and rescues near you.
You could also have the kids help you gather up a donation of household items you no longer use, such as:
- Blankets for keeping the animals warm
- Towels for bath time
- Pens and pencils for the office
- Newspaper for the bottom of cages
- Plastic shopping bags for cleaning up messes
9. Raise money with a lemonade stand
If you’re planning to have a garage sale, it’s a great opportunity to buy food and snacks for fundraising. We’ve had great luck selling lemonade, bottled water, chips, and popsicles. Have the kids choose a cause to support, set an earnings goal, and make posters. I love this idea not only for supporting a worthy cause, but also for teaching kids about sales, counting money, and reaching a goal.
10. Color pictures for senior citizens
Get out the craft supplies and let the creative juices flow. This is another opportunity that could be used with children as young as 2. Color-A-Smile makes it easy by offering printable coloring sheets, as well as more open-ended pages for drawings.
11. Make cards for sick kids
Get out those art supplies again to make cards with uplifting messages for kids. Buy stickers and sheets of paper. Let the kids use their imaginations while decorating and creating kind messages. This is great to do with a theme – Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, Christmas. You can use stickers and stencils to go with your chosen theme.
Send the finished cards to Cards For Hospitalized Kids to get distributed. Use this activity as an opportunity to talk to your kids about being grateful for your family’s health.
12. Sponsor A Child
This is the only opportunity on the list that is a long-term commitment. If you have the room in your budget, register with an organization like Save The Children or Love A Child and commit to a monthly contribution to a child living in poverty. Plans start at $24 per month. Your money will provide support for a child’s health, education, and safety. Equally important, both of the organizations mentioned rate highly on Charity Navigator.
I’ve partnered with Save The Children in the past and had a great experience. I had my oldest daughter help me choose which little girl to sponsor, and we picked someone who was close to her age. We knew we wanted someone from the Philippines, my mom’s birthplace. Once you choose a child to sponsor, have your child write letters and emails, choose photos to send, and pick out small gifts for birthdays and holidays. It was fun to read the mail we received from our sponsor child and see updated pictures of her. My daughter learned more about the Philippines and got to hear how things are different for a child of the same age in a third world country.
13. Use online resources to find a local opportunity
Volunteering With Kids: Boost Your Wellbeing
Finally, check out the latest scientific study for proof that volunteering helps you just as much as it helps your community! Above all, make sure to choose causes or events that you will enjoy supporting.