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Oregon Family Magazine

Holiday Volunteering Grows Charitable Adults

11/02/2017 ● By Sandy Kauten
Holiday volunteering can reap year-long rewards for character building service learning while creating lasting family memories.  

Sally was nine years old and her sister Emily was seven years old when they began volunteering at their local food bank with their family. Volunteering included sorting boxes and cans of food into different groups and then packing family boxes for the low-income families that the food bank serves. The first time Sally and Emily volunteered, they asked lots of questions and enjoyed the can conveyer belt tremendously. The food bank volunteer manager had things well organized, so the kids were engaged the entire time. To make the experience purposeful, their mom pointed out the families waiting in the lobby who were to receive the boxes of food. As they were leaving the food bank, the volunteer manager heard Sally say, “This was one of the best days of my life!” Her sister Emily piped in and said, “That was fun!”

According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, service learning is a teaching strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. Service learning also builds character and teaches civic responsibility as youth participate in service projects in education, public welfare, health, public safety, or the environment. Families can volunteer together and reap all the benefits of service learning while making a memory.

Teaching service is most effective when children give something meaningful to them. An example of an age appropriate, meaningful service project for first and second graders is a teddy bear drive for abused children of domestic violence in shelters or hospitals. Children can be encouraged to give a stuffed animal of their own that is in good shape or earn the money by doing household chores to make a purchase themselves. Children can also travel to the shelter to drop off the stuffed animals so that the “giving” is concrete.

Children may come up with their own ideas about service projects that have special meaning to them. Older children may work together to sell candy or crafts at a profit to purchase items for less fortunate families such as children’s coats. Service learning studies show that children who serve are more likely to grow into charitable adults.

Service learning ideas that can be done as a family are:

  • Raking an elderly neighbor’s yard.
  • Organizing and conducting a canned food drive at your child’s school together.

(This may involve several pieces, announcing the food drive at various classrooms, making posters, decorating the collection boxes, and finally taking the cans to the food pantry or food bank.)

  •  Walking dogs at the local humane society shelter.
  •  Collecting new or like new books for the children’s wing of the hospital and delivering the books to the hospital auxiliary to distribute.
  • Holding a penny drive to buy extra school supplies for children who cannot afford them or use the pennies to buy dog and cat food for your local animal shelter and then delivering the bags of food
  •  Planting a garden with native plants to encourage backyard habitat for birds, insects, and small animals.
  • Older children can write a letter thanking soldiers for their service.

Working together as a family for others not only strengthens communities by helping the cause of your choice, but also models good character and strengthens family bonds.

Laura Lyles Reagan is a parenting coach, parenting journalist and author of How to Raise Respectful Parents. She can be reached for questions or comments through her website,