Mitzvahs with kids

Last week, a mom contacted me after reading my blog and wondered if I could suggest some meaningful mitzvah/volunteer work she could do with her young children. Here are my top ten ideas for mitzvahs to do with kids.

Delivering Valentine-o-grams with my 2-year-old daughter.
  1. If your child loves being in the car, deliver something. It could be food to seniors, special events like the Valentine-o-grams I have mentioned in the past or picking up perishable foods from a school or restaurant and delivering it to a local food pantry.
  2. Have a lemonade stand or bake sale and give the proceeds to a non-profit that your kids might know, for example, a Humane Society or a local food bank or to a charity collecting after a natural disaster. If donating locally, arrange to have your kids deliver the money in person and maybe even get a tour of the place you have donated.
  3. Collect cans for a food bank. Even the littlest children can help do this. My kids were 6 and 9 when we took a wagon through a neighborhood near our synagogue to collect cans for a synagogue sponsored event. We discovered it was like trick or treating with a twist and the kids really enjoyed it. You could let them choose a few items each week at the supermarket to donate in the food collection barrels many stores now have in front.
  4. Volunteer to collect children’s books. We have an organization called The Children’s Book Bank in Portland, maybe there is one in your town that collects children’s books and gives them to needy children.
  5. Visit a senior center/retirement home. Contact the activities director and see if you can bring the kids in to visit during a meal or a game time.
  6. Bake something and give it to someone. My daughter loves to bake and I have enlisted her several times now to bake for a shiva call (a visit during the period of Jewish observance after the death of a loved one). Children could also bring something they have baked to elderly neighbors or relatives.

    Make cookies for a bake sale or bring them to an elderly neighbor.
  7. Visit someone in the hospital. Do you know of anyone who is in need of a visit? Children can often cheer up someone sick in the hospital.
  8. Volunteer at school. Often younger siblings can come and help when there are opportunities to volunteer at school. My children have joined me to  collect auction items, drive for a field trip, give out fundraising material, set up for a school related event and even stuff mailers.
  9. Pull weeds. We helped at our school garden. My kids loved getting dirty and muddy more than I did. There is probably somewhere in your city that would love your gardening help.
  10. Still not sure where to volunteer, check out: Hands On Network. If you have a Hands On in your community, it is a great place to start. This organization keeps a calendar of volunteer opportunities and what specific ages can volunteer in hundreds of cities across the US.

A Sunshine Pantry – Mitzvah reminder

I love how the world ebbs and flows. Often we are reminded of things in our lives and this weekend felt exactly like that. Two years ago, in March 2009, I was writing about my final mitzvah challenge as part of my  1,000th Mitzvah and encouraged others to give either money or food to their local food pantry or donate to The Sunshine Pantry in our community if they lived near me.

While I have been back to the pantry a few times to drop off some food since then, I haven’t done any volunteering or shelving and was reminded yesterday how much I enjoy this part too.

My daughter and I went with a local Jewish youth group to the Sunshine Pantry to volunteer for a few hours. When the founder, Sharon Strauss gave us a tour of her pantry, I realized again that even if we don’t know where our life will take us doing whatever we  can to make a difference can sometimes take on a life of it’s own. Sharon, who calls herself  “just a Beaverton mom”, started her pantry 29 years ago, as part of a Boy Scout project to feed six local families one December. Slowly and without the vision of what her pantry would eventually become she began to grow her project into a few shelves in her garage, then it took over her entire garage and today it’s housed in  a small warehouse pantry that houses a dozen regular refrigerators, plus a commercial sized walk-in and lots of great food to share with more than 500 families a month visiting her pantry. When she began she says that she had no idea where it would go, she just knew she was passionate about helping and feeding others and letting people know that when they were in trouble there were people there to help them so they shouldn’t feel so alone. She welcomes each child and family with open arms, “so the children should feel that they are going to Auntie Sharon’s house and not be embarrassed.” As she toured the youth group around the pantry, she explained how each of the refrigerators has a special name, like Willie Wonka – that houses the special chocolates and candy and Party Harty where she keeps the beautiful collection of birthday cakes for families with special occasions to celebrate. She has even assembled Sniffle Bags so if a family comes in with a sick child they can go home with a bag to help them get better, it includes, jello and soup, tissues and some special surprises for the children.

Sharon’s only requirements for families that visit her pantry is that they bring their own box, since she never has enough and a smile, beyond that she requires no other formal paperwork that families must fill out to receive food.

As the kids organized and shelved the day’s deliveries, I was reminded that a pantry like this requires lots of hands to make sure that the food is collected, organized and available for the needy families. This takes human power, so for every Sharon Strauss who founds a food pantry or another kind of non-profit, many, many other people are needed to help make it run. Never underestimate your effort. Making an effort to donate some of your time or money even if you can’t do it every week makes a difference.

Sharon invited the children to come back again, during their spring break or summer vacation to lend a hand, saying that she has to do this same kind of organizing we did each and every day of the week. Do you have an hour to give once a week or once a month in your community? Even if we aren’t the founders of a food bank, our efforts will be helping another mitzvah maker who needs us and our efforts will be gladly accepted. Two years after my own 1000 Mitzvah project was wrapping up, I think today’s Monday mitzvah is still relevant , so though it’s not a new idea, reminding ourselves never hurts – give to your local food pantry whether it’s your time, your money or your canned goods.

Food Drive

948) Picked up my dry cleaning today and remembered to thank the clerk for my last visit. She had gone out of her way to help me but was busy with another client so I hadn’t been able to thank her.

949) Gave some information to a friend that I thought could help her with her business.

950) Heard about a local food drive to raise money and food for our community.  Dined at one of the restaurants that was giving 50% of their proceeds to the food bank, invited two other parents and their kids to join us.

My inspiration, speaker Danny Siegel comes to town to speak….

What an amazing honor and privilege it was to spend the weekend learning and sharing with Danny Siegel, founder of the Ziv Tzedakah fund ( Danny’s organization was one that I have donated to for the past couple of years although I learned of his work when I was a teenager. I had originally hoped that others would be inspired as well by Danny’s work when I started my blog nearly 2 years ago. He came for a “Shabbaton” or weekend retreat at the synagogue and I had several opportunities to learn from him. He is not only an inspiration but knows how to encourage and motivate people to go make a difference.

Some easy mitzvah projects we discussed, giving gloves to homeless people if you are uncomfortable giving them money on the street, donating a book to a local school to give to a child who can’t buy one, recycling the crayons used by a restaurant to schools or under served children or starting a video donation to a local hospital for kids to view and take home.

Just as a side note, in February 2008, Danny decided to close Ziv Tzedakah. However, three of his students are continuing his work with many of the original mitzvah heros. Their website is:

Here is a great story he told us:

The Starfish

Someone is strolling along the beach and sees hundreds of starfish that have been washed ashore. As he is walking, he sees a child picking one of them up and throwing it back into the water. The adult says to the child, ” Why are you doing this? There are hundreds of starfish on the beach. What difference does this make?” The child replies, “It makes a difference to that one.” This is a popular story and illustrates the fact that even if something seems minor to do, do it anyway because even saving one starfish or helping one person with your time or money is worthwhile.

778) Donated empty 8*11 frames to my daughter’s class for framing the children’s art work.

779) Attended a board meeting that I have been asked to join.

780) Collected cans for a local food pantry with my family today as part of the Shabbaton with Danny Siegel.

My children  had initially been less than excited to participate to say the least. They even told me at the beginning they weren’t going to ring anyone’s door or ask for anything. At the end my 10 year old daughter commented “It was surprisingly fun” and my son who as it turned out did most of the ringing and speaking  at each house eagerly agreed.

My favorite home was one where a man asked my children some questions (must have been a teacher) about what we were doing and how the canned food would be used. My son loved answering his questions and I was thrilled that someone took the time to engage them further.

781) Used my cell phone to help a synagogue congregant contact her ride service to determine why they were late.

782) Helped our guest speaker carry his things to where they needed to be stored.

783) Donated extra $ for a PTO sponsored event at school to help cover an extra person.

784) Attended a school fundraiser at a local restaurant.

Finally, some wonderful quotes from our weekend.

Nobody make s a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little.

(Edmund Burke)

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, you can. Boldness has a genius, magic and power to it. (Goethe)