Monday, June 2, 2014

Teaching Our Children About Giving to the Homeless & Needy

guest post by Kristen Chipman

Ask my close friends about how I get all fired up whenever I see injustice and they’ll probably laugh and shake their heads. It happens ALL. THE. TIME. However, being a stay-at-home-homeschooling-home-business-running mama, my time for combating injustice is limited, to say the least. And with many issues, I don’t even really know what to do or how to go about helping those who need our help. But, there are smaller injustices and needs that I can meet. Even more than my desire for to help, though, is the fact that as a mom I really want to raise my girls in an environment aware of the small things that we can do to make a difference in other people’s lives.

So for years now, we have made a point to serve the homeless and needy in whatever small ways we can, wherever we have lived. I don’t remember when exactly it was, but it started as conversation in the car with my girls, after passing a homeless person holding a sign. I started talking about how some people don’t have a family or a place to live like we do. It wasn’t an easy conversation, necessarily, but all the best conversations usually aren’t the easy ones.

My girls were sad – I specifically remember my younger daughter getting a bit teary as I talked about what it meant to be homeless and how hard it can be to be homeless. But then… They asked what they could do to help! So we talked about how we can do some things to help, like giving a few dollars, or buying a meal and giving it to a homeless person, and they began to understand that they could do something too! It was then that they started to get excited about helping others.

I began out by giving them a few dollars each to give to the homeless we encountered on the road. They would – and still do! - pull out their money excitedly whenever we would stop somewhere where we could give.

We also stopped at drive-throughs a few times, and I let the girls choose things that they thought would be good to eat. Sometimes, even a hot McDonald’s coffee can make a difference. And that’s something that I think is important for children to understand.

In more recent years, my girls have their own “Giving Money” that they try to keep with them whenever we’re out, and we’ve bought more copies of Nashville’s The Contributor (a newspaper that those in the homeless community can purchase to sell at a profit, which helps them to become self-sufficient) than I can count. Since returning to central Florida last year, we have continued our efforts, although in somewhat different ways, as we live in a small town and don’t always have the opportunity to give money or buy coffee.

As they’ve gotten older, the conversations about the poor and homeless have grown, as well. We’ve touched on and talked about mental illness, addictions, and not having a support system of family and friends. We’ve talked about how we don’t judge what those we give to do with what we give – even if they throw away the food we give, I try to always remind my girls that our DOING is the important thing, and the choice that is made afterward is one that is in the hands of God and those we give to.

So here are some quick thoughts to get you started:

  • Have that conversation, even with little ones. It’s important.
  • Let your child do the giving. It’s empowering and fosters good will.
  • Bananas or banana chips, cold water bottles, crackers, instant coffee packs – all of these things are easy to carry and easy to give.
  • Let your child choose some of their clothes to give to a needy family. Habitat for Humanity can give directly to needy families sometimes, as can other groups.
  • Volunteering at a local community garden is a great way to give back that requires nothing more than a little time.
  • Pool with a few other families and make “goodie bags” for the homeless: fill them with toiletries from the Dollar Tree, washcloths, a few dollars, or whatever you want. Then make a trip to give them out in an area where you know there are a lot of homeless.
  • Give your child $10 to purchase things to donate to a local shelter or food bank while you’re out shopping. Diapers, canned goods, wipes, hand sanitizer, and toiletries are all good options.

These are all small things, but they can make an impact – both in the lives of those you give to, and in your children’s lives. Watch your kids get excited about helping others. Watch their faces light up. Watch the recipients'. Seeing that - it’s the very stuff of life, I think. 

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Enthusiastic coffee-drinker, homeschooling mama, and photographer (who sometimes moonlights as an artist and poet), Kristen loves heart-to-heart conversations and sharing deep belly laughs. Mama to two giddy, growing girls, and wife to a man who missed his calling as a comedian, she is learning to love the beautiful mess that is her life. She can be found constantly posting crazy things about her kids on Facebook and editing at all hours for Plaid Llama Studios, the photography business she runs with her husband, Thomas.

Photo credit: Edd Sowden via Creative Commons

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