Giving comes naturally to my children, especially Leah. Every week she picks out something at the grocery store “for the poor people” and puts it in the drop box by the exit. She gets truly upset when the box looks empty and has even asked if we could go back inside the store to buy more. Her generosity was my inspiration for New Experience #12, volunteering at the food pantry.
I’ve wanted to volunteer with my children for a long time, but I never seemed to make the time to do it. I want to teach them that we can and should do more than give money or cans of food to the needy. Volunteering our time shows a commitment to a cause and makes it more personal. It also makes us feel fortunate for what we have.
Setting up a volunteer time was easy. I called our town’s social services department and asked if I could bring a six-year old and four-year old to volunteer. The woman on the phone said, “Absolutely!” and let me know that we didn’t need an appointment. We could come in any time.
We arrived at 10 am and a friendly worker brought us back to the food pantry. There we met Gail, an experienced volunteer. She told us we arrived on a good day. The food pantry was full and just received many shopping bags filled with donations. Our job was simple: get the groceries onto the right shelves in the pantry. While I unpacked the bags and checked expiration dates, Luke and Leah got right to work, carrying two or three cans at a time to the shelves. My little helpers took their job very seriously. I loved watching the concentration on their faces as they put the soups on one shelf, the vegetables on the other. They felt so responsible when Gail showed them where the toothpaste and soap belonged. They had to walk into another closet by themselves to put it away.
One thing I did not anticipate was that they would get hungry stocking shelves. Looking at all those boxes of cereal made Luke hungry, even though I reminded him that we just had a snack in the car. I tried to quietly tell Luke that all of this food was for those less fortunate than our family, but one thing I have learned as a parent is that reasoning with a hungry child is impossible. Luckily, Gail had some apple slices the kids could munch on as we worked.
The other thing I did not expect was that my children would find items at the food pantry more enticing than the food I buy for our home. “Sponge Bob soup? Mom, how come you never buy this?” Leah asked. Luke also let me know I need to put more sugary cereals and Chef Boyardee on our grocery list.
Those little snafus were worth it as my kids worked diligently for just over an hour. They did not get tired at all, but they were starting to notice which foods were in greater supply. “More mac and cheese? We don’t need more mac and cheese!” Luke exclaimed as he nearly caused an avalanche by placing it on top of a pile as tall he is.
Before we left, Gail suggested that we pack a few bags for families so that the children could see what a family who visits the food pantry receives. I read the list and called out what foods we needed to place in the bags. Luke and Leah scrambled to quickly find each item. They were delighted to find out that we also had some goodies to give each family this week. They placed a package of hot chocolate and microwave popcorn in the bags and thought that would be a great snack for a movie night.
As we walked out of the food pantry, I told the kids how proud I was of them. Helping people in our community is important to me, and I am glad they enjoyed it. Leah told me the best part was carrying four boxes of mac and cheese at once. Luke enjoyed packing the bags with the treats. I think they felt really important since stocking shelves and filling bags is something they see adults doing at the grocery store.
Our volunteer experience was so successful that I have already marked our calendar in pen. We are going to repeat this wonderful experience once a month for the rest of the year, even if it does mean I need to buy Sponge Bob soup.
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