Hands-on volunteering experiences can sometimes be hard to find for families with younger children. There are many terrific of organizations within our community that need volunteers to help with a variety of jobs, but often these jobs are skill-specific or take place in environments that may not be welcoming to young children. However, there are lots of community service projects that kids can do at home that make just as large an impact as in-person volunteering.
Care bags are an example of an at-home community service project that families with young children can do together with parents or teens facilitating. Care bags can be created to donate for people of all ages to a variety of organizations, but creating them for children can help young children feel a particular connection to the process. While your own children may not have experienced anything like what those who will be receiving your bags may have (homelessness, foster care, major illness, etc.), they will already have one thing in common: they’re kids, and they know what is fun and interesting, as well as what would be comforting during a scary time.
There are many different ways to participate in the creation and distribution of care bags, and the process of creating them can be tailored to the age and specific interests of those involved. Families can research organizations that solicit donations of items or create their own bags from scratch. Organizations such as bags4kids and My Stuff Bags Foundation collect donations of a variety of items, including new and gently used stuffed animals, blankets, and bags of all types to include in care and comfort bags for children in shelters, foster homes, or other forms of transitional housing. Families can participate in these organizations’ efforts by collecting and donating their own items, organizing a collection drive at their school or collecting items from neighbors.
Families who are interested in tailoring bags to their local community can create their own care bags, designed specifically to match the needs of children being served by a specific local organization or staying in a local care center. Care bags are often times welcomed by children’s hospitals (Hilltown Families has supported families in creating bags for Baystate Children’s Hospital in the past) and nonprofit organizations that work directly with families in need. Some examples of such organizations in our community include survival centers and food banks, shelters, and organizations that support victims of abuse. While donations are almost always welcomed, it is always best to contact an organization before embarking on a service project to find out what they are limited in receiving and when bags can be delivered. In doing so, families can ensure not only that their help is needed, but that they are able to tailor their work to fit the specific needs of the organization.
Homemade care bags can include everything from shampoo and chapstick to crayons and playing cards. Bags made to comfort and occupy children can include small toys and games, coloring books and small art materials, and other goodies and treasures. Families can download and print their own coloring pages or make their own, and kids can get creative while making cheerful cards to let the recipients of the bags know that they care and are thinking of them. Here are some pages to download for children to color and writer messages on to include in their bags:
Care bags can be created a few at a time or in larger batches, and the project can be done by groups any size from single-kid families to entire classrooms (or schools) of students. The process of filling a bag is simple enough that even kindergarteners can easily participate and appreciate the activity. Older kids can get creative with the contents of their bags, and could even find ways to create their own toys and goodies from materials that they have at home!
AT HOME: Equally as important, families learned how they can be of service to their community on their own:
- Families can fill ziplock bags (pictured above) with personal care items or healthy snacks & water to carry with them to give to a person in need they might meet while traveling around town.
- A family can make no-sew fleece blankets as a family project to donate to a local shelter.
- Cards can be made at home to be sent to a child in the hospital, or homebound elders in their community.
- A random act of kindness, like giving a planted paperwhite to your library or school, or painting and giving terracotta pots with posies to a local nursing home or elder in your neighborhood, can bring joy and beauty to others, and is a fun creative project families can do together.
Here are two of our favorite books to help families with children of all ages find ideas on how they can volunteer in their community too:
- The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering: Do Good, Have Fun, Make a Difference as a Family!
- How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist: 330 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Home, Community, and World – at No Cost!