Charity That Kids Can Understand

Among our many goals for our kids is that they would grow up to be generous and charitable. We figure the best time to start laying that foundation is . . . now.

But it's easier said than done, right?

I started my kids' charitable giving by secretly cleaning out their toys after they were asleep and carefully hiding the stuff in the back of the car so we could drop it off someplace and hope they were never the wiser.

It's a great way to reduce clutter and avoid conflict, but it's a terrible way to teach kids about giving.

So here's how we do it now:

We get our kids as close as possible to the kids they are making sacrifices for.

Even once I had the kids helping with the clean out, dropping toys off with some dude at a dumpster behind a thrift store was pretty anti-climactic.

I know this isn't possible for most people, but my favorite moments of giving with my kids have been our trips to Tijuana to a day care center run by the Missionaries of Charity. When the kids heard what we were going to do, they were so excited about it that I actually had to stop myself from rescuing toys from the "give" pile. They chose to donate some of their absolute favorite things.

The kids helped the sisters to unload everything and fill up their nearly empty storage room, then we got to see what life was really like for these kids. We saw their struggles, but also their joys.

My older daughter and I got to feed ramen noodles to the babies for lunch, while my boys (who do not speak Spanish) played for an hour in a parking lot with a bunch of Mexican boys with just the little bouncy ball my oldest son had in his pocket. And he thought to leave the ball with one of the boys when we left. We also got to sit and play with the toddlers in their play room. And on our second visit, two years later, the kids ran around the room, excitedly finding the toys they had donated on our first trip, and pointing out kids who were wearing clothes that had been theirs.

It was a meaningful experience for our whole family, but it is quite a to-do, and we're not able to make it happen as often as I'd like.

Fortunately, we have another option now. There are pregnancy resource centers in almost every town now, that help women dealing with crisis pregnancies, women who often have other children as well. Now we usually donate our unneeded clothes and toys to one of these centers (my mom happens to volunteer at one) so we know that our things will go directly to a child who really needs them.

And when we're visiting San Diego, my kids get to go with my mom to see the families that need their help and play with the kids and babies while their moms get counseling and the items they need.

Sometimes what people need is money, not stuff, but we have found ways of getting the kids involved in that too.

When we decide as a family to make a financial gift we always try to tie it to something we can DO, because kids don't do that well with the abstract.

So, we always try to make a trade. If we want to write a check for a Christmas dinner for a needy family we will make a point of eating simple meals as a family for a week to save up the money, and we'll talk about it as we are shopping and while we are eating.

The kids get to pick the gifts we put under the giving tree at church, and they know that they are giving something to those kids instead of getting another present for themselves.

This week we wanted to send money to help a family who needs their laundry room repaired. (More on that in a minute.) We are away from home for the summer, so we decided as a family to prayerfully do all the jobs that our housekeeper at home usually does, and donate the money we've saved.

If it doesn't feel like a real sacrifice to them, giving is going to be meaningless for my kids. And it's unlikely to become a habit.

So, want to actually get your kids involved in active charity right now? Here are two ideas:

I'm thinking that the number of people who read MY blog but do not read Clan Donaldson or A Knotted Life is really, really small. My mom probably (hi Mom!) and maybe Keeley and Jason (hi guys!).

But just in case you missed it: Awesome blogger Dwija has five kids and is currently one week further along with her next baby than I am, but her pregnancy this time has come with serious complications that are being exacerbated by an unlivable laundry room situation. One of Cari's readers suggested that we do a fund raiser to help, and she stepped all the way up, and set up a donation link here.

So, now you can get creative with your family to help someone else's.

Hey, maybe you were going to take the whole family to see Monsters University. Great news, it's not very good! You can make some microwave popcorn and pop in the DVD of Monsters Inc that you already own and if you happen to have a bunch of kids you've just saved $40-$1000 that you could send Dwija's way, AND you don't have to sit through a very mediocre movie. If you explain it to your kids, they just became active participants in giving. Everyone wins. Go here to donate to Dwija.

Another cause worthy of your consideration is the recent flooding at Lourdes, a place that is very dear to our family for reasons that I'll have to write up for the blog sometime. My
parents returned home from their annual week of volunteering at Lourdes just before
it was damaged so severely. Pilgrimages have been cancelled for the
remainder of the season and perhaps beyond. You'll find sobering photos and information about how to help here.

Happy giving everyone!