Lessons In Giving Back

featured in Boston Parents Paper Blog, April 7, 2014
By Beth Chambers

The importance of helping those who are less fortunate has always been a value I worked to instill in my family.  To me, it meant that our children started volunteering at the local food pantry at a young age.  While shopping at the grocery store, I would ask them to pick out an item they wanted to bring to the pantry, helping them make the connection between what they have and how they can assist others who are less fortunate.

Working for a social services agency that cares for the region’s most needy, I had plenty of real stories to share on the impact one person could have on another’s life, but I quickly realized I had to encourage my children to experience giving back for themselves and form their own opinions on volunteerism.

Engaging children in volunteering is truly a two-way street—it’s helps to enrich the life of the child while also providing much needed support to someone on the other side who is in need.  The economy may be on the mend, but the demand for basic needs services such as food assistance is higher than ever.

Here are some tips for getting the family involved:

  • Start with the Grocery Store – Food insecurity is still a serious issue for too many Massachusetts families.  Next time you are with the children at the grocery store, consider picking up some non-perishables to drop off at your local food pantry.  Come across a buy-one-get-one-free-sale?  Put one of the items in your cart and set the other aside to donate.
  • Make Volunteering a Family Affair – Volunteering as a family is a great way to spend time together away from the TV, video games and iPad.  Whether pushing the shopping cart at a local food pantry or handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving, direct contact with those being served helps children understand the impact of their participation.
  • Find Outlets That Match Interests – Are your kids active and enjoy being outside?  Spring brings numerous charity walks, runs and other fundraisers in search of volunteers.  Even standing at a street corner and cheering on runners is volunteering – everyone needs someone routing for them!  Are your kids dog lovers?  Look into opportunities at local animal shelters.
  • Donate Outgrown or Unused Items – Work with your children to sort through outgrown toys, books and clothing and bring to a local relief organization.  Going on a family vacation?  Bring back the mini hotel shampoos and soaps and donate to a local shelter for the homeless.

The values we ingrain into our children when they are young impact the kind of person they become.  I truly believe there’s good in everyone and learning to give back can bring out the best in us.

Beth Chambers, MSW, is Director of Catholic Charities South