Many communities, like our Northern California home, have a large homeless population. Every day, we are confronted with the reality that there are people without homes nearby. It’s even mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide book for our region. During each winter storm, we worry abou those living in tents or hunkered down under bridges. My children want to help, yet the immensity of the problem can feel overwhelming.
Young children innocently ask questions and feel compassion when faced with homelessness. I remember my daughter’s first trip to San Francisco. She asked why I did not give money to every homeless person we saw. Children want to help. We want to help too, but as parents, we are concerned about our safety. We don’t know how close to get. We fear unpredictable behavior from mental illness and substance abuse.
When you see homeless people, do you walk by ignoring their presence? Do you say, “Hi” and make eye contact? Do you offer them money or food? As humans, we fluctuate between feeling compassion and aversion towards the homeless. Our children feel the same. They are simultaneously curious, cautious, and compassionate. We want to help but we have fears. Deep inside, we recognize there is not much difference between ourselves and those living on the street.
Teaching our children to give back safely helps them cope with their own feelings regarding the homeless. When we teach and model social activism at a young age, our children learn empowerment. Here are three easy, safe ideas for your children to help the homeless this holiday season.
3 Easy, Safe Ideas for Children for Helping Homeless Families
1. Make gift bags
Every year, a friend of mine makes bags of useful items to hand out to the homeless in her community. She includes clean socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, healthy snacks, multivitamins, balm, and a list of available services in the community. She is very careful to include natural items as part of her compassionate response to helping homeless families. When one believes that natural ingredients, like those found in Tom’s of Maine personal care products, are best for our health and environment, it only makes sense to include natural products in our acts of generosity. The homeless deserve natural products too!
If you want to extend the gift bag idea beyond your family, try hosting a party at your school or home to assemble bags. Children can even include handmade cards for a personal touch. Once you have made the bags with your children, you can personally hand them out or deliver them to a shelter, depending on your level of comfort.
2. Bake holiday pies and cookies for a shelter
A safe, easy way to help the homeless this winter is to bake holiday goodies in your own home. This is a fun way to involve your children in the kitchen with the intent of giving to those less fortunate. Your kids can look through cookbooks, make ingredient lists, and go shopping to be fully involved in the process. As mentioned above, if using organic, natural ingredients is important to you, doing the same while baking for the homeless will maintain the integrity of your actions.
You may want to call ahead to local shelters to see what they need. I was surprised that our local organization requests gluten-free and dairy-free options for those with allergies. It can be especially challenging to be homeless and have dietary restrictions. Some of our favorite holiday recipes are gluten-free, vegan pecan pie and dairy-free pumpkin pie.
Just like the holiday gift bag idea, this act of service can also be done in a festive party setting. Invite families together to bake in your home or set up a volunteer event in your school kitchen. Your acts can inspire many to do the same.
3. Ask for donations to local homeless agencies in lieu of holiday presents
Do you ever feel stumped about what to give someone, even your children? Most of us have more than we need. According to the World Atlas, the average American adult plans to spend $908 on gifts this holiday season. Imagine the impact if as little as 5-10% of this money was donated to homeless shelters and programs!
Cleaning out closets and toy chests to make donations in anticipation of new gifts is an easy way to give back, but the truth is many thrift stores that support homeless services are overwhelmed with donations. Monetary donations allow organizations to provide the services that are most needed like mental health and drug abuse counseling, in addition to feeding and clothing those without homes.
Our relatives have begun asking what my children want for the holidays. This year, my children will select one charity organization to ask for a donation in lieu of one of these gifts. Between grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. there will be plenty of gifts to open, and the act of generosity will reach farther into our community.
Our local communities face many challenges. As parents, we must find safe, comfortable ways for our children to give back and participate in solutions. These three ideas for helping homeless families may inspire you to come up with some of your own. We invite you to share them!
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