As the holidays approach, people start setting their minds to “giving back,” but we don’t need to limit the season for service—any time is a good time to involve our kids in helping others. Farm kids are usually pretty adept at working hard, so they’re wonderfully suited to getting things done and done well. Here are a few ideas for getting children of all ages involved in helping out their community.
1. Rake Leaves And Pull Weeds
Serving neighbors is particularly fun because the children can watch out the window for them to come home from work to see their happy reactions to a clean yard. This old standby has made many of our elderly neighbors happy over the years. For some reason, my kids just love to clean up people’s yards, especially if it’s a surprise. Even toddlers can stuff leaves in a bag, so this is a good service project for all ages.
2. Make Scarves, Gloves and Hats
Shelters appreciate donations of warm clothing to have on hand before cold weather sets in and their tenants need them. Our local library does a scarf and hat drive every year, and because we’re there every week, it’s simple matter for us to drop off items when we visit. We’re aren’t ambitious enough yet to make our own gloves, but we use knitting looms to make both scarves and simple hats. My youngest children still need help using the knitting looms, but my older kids, ages 7 and up, can pretty much work these looms on their own. Making hats is a favorite past time for during family reading time. If you keep fiber animals, what a blessing you could be to someone by crafting these simple hats and scarves with homespun yarn produced by animals you love. But even if knitting isn’t your thing, fleece is an easy material to work with because it doesn’t need hemmed—just cut out the shape, tie some fringe, and you have an adorable, warm scarf.
3. Sew Baby Blankets
Another good use for fleece is making baby blankets for your local hospital or shelter. If you want to teach basic sewing skills to your kids, try these simple baby quilts. Additionally, if you have fiber animals and are handy with a crochet hook or knitting needles, teaching your kids either skill is well worth the time.
4. Assemble 72-Hour Baby Kits
We know that it’s important to have bug-out bags ready for the family in the case of an emergency, but do we remember the babies? If you know of a single mom of a newborn or a friends whose strained finances are trying to cover the needs of twins, get a group of friends together and assemble emergency kits for babies.
5. Share The Harvest
If you grew so many pumpkins and apples this year that they’re coming out of your ears, round it all up and donate it to your local food pantry. Each pantry will have its own rules about what donations it will receive, so call several local food pantries and ask them what they’ll take in the way of fresh fruit and veggies. Websites like Ample Harvest and Feeding America can help you locate pantries near you. If you plan ahead each growing season, you can participate in the Garden Writers Association’s Plant A Row campaign, which encourages gardeners to plant an extra row of edibles to donate to the hungry.
6. Bake Sweet Treats
Have your children try to think of someone in the community who could really use a thank you for all they do. How about dropping off a dozen cookies to your local firehouse, police station or public works office? Your favorite teacher or the aides in the special needs classes could certainly use a little treat. The best part about whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies is that there will always be a few leftover for the little bakers.
7. Hand Out Homemade Dog Treats
Let’s not forget our animal friends when thinking of service projects. Bake up a batch of homemade dog treats for your local animal shelter or deliver some rawhides. You can call ahead and ask if they need other items, like toys, and get your friends to donate with you to increase the amount you can give. Don’t forget to share the love with your own pups, especially those hard working livestock guard and herding dogs.
8. Give Donations Instead Of Gifts
Instead of birthday presents, have your kids’ friends bring reading books, coloring books, pens, crayons and stickers to their birthday parties so that you can donate them to a local charity of your child’s choice. We’ve been doing this since they were little, so my kids don’t really know the difference, but I remind them that the party with their friends is the real birthday present and what fun it will be to spread the joy around to kids who are struggling. To make it fun, the kids and I decorate a cardboard box with wrapping paper and write up a big sign that says “Donations Here,” so their friends know where to put the items they bring. After the party, we take everything over to the children’s wing of our local hospital.
9. Children’s Book and Family-Friendly Movie Drive
Last year, before Thanksgiving, we printed up slips explaining our children’s book and family-friendly movie drive to our neighbors and hand delivered them to every door in our immediate area. We were living in the city then, and dropped off about 200 fliers. We provided two pick-up dates so that people could simply leave their donations in a plastic bag on their doorstep, and we’d come pick them up. We even made up some Christmas ornaments to leave as thank-you gifts to those who left donations for us.
At first we were disappointed because, of the 200 houses we visited, only about 15 people ended up leaving stuff out for us. However, when we got home and started sorting through the books and movies we were so excited by the great children’s titles we’d collected. We boxed everything up and drove it over to our closest family shelter. When we told the lady at the desk what we had, she nearly cried with happiness. She told us that the older kids went to school during the day, but the younger ones had nothing to do at the shelter to constructively occupy their time because each family only has a small amount of space and very little in the way of supplies. She said that the books and movies we’d collected would keep the littles ones busy and even help them learn to read and be creative. Of all the collections we’ve taken up, from food to clothes, that children’s book drive was our absolute favorite.
10. Make Snuggle Bags For Foster Kids
Sitting in a case worker’s office waiting to go into foster care can be a very scary experience for a child. Likewise, being in a foster home that first night can be so disorienting for a young one. Your family can sit down and imagine what a child might like in such circumstances: a homemade fleece blanket, a toothbrush, a book, a nightlight, a stuffed animal. Then buy some simple cloth bags from the dollar store, and add the items to the bag. This is a perfect project for a group of families to work on together, so that you can pool resources and provide as many bags as possible. Similarly, putting together Easter baskets or holiday stockings for your local orphanage is a great group activity. Be sure to work with these institutions to get their opinions on age ranges and genders—they’ll be able to tell you the ages and numbers of boys and girls they currently have.
11. Organize A Charity Fundraising Event
One of our homesteading friends, Liah, is a born philanthropist. She and her family have become involved in charity called Operation Underground Railroad, which rescues children around the world from slavery. Liah held a 5K for families in her rural town, setting up and running the whole show nearly on her own. Her small town came together to support her efforts, and all the money she was able to collect went straight to OUR to help with their next mission. The family had such fun organizing the 5K that they decided to make it an annual event. Anyone can set up their own event on the Operation Underground Railroad’s website. Any farm kid could sell their farm wares and donate a portion of the proceeds or set up a group sale from the homestead with other children. No donation is too small to help children in need.