Eight ways to involve the whole family in community service

Many parents want to model volunteering with their children as a practical, hands-on method to help teach the importance of giving back to local communities. 

However, many volunteer positions come…

Many parents want to model volunteering with their children as a practical, hands-on method to help teach the importance of giving back to local communities. 

However, many volunteer positions come with specific age requirements that range from 8 years all the way to 18 and beyond. This can make it hard for parents to find places where the whole family can participate – especially with babies and toddlers in the mix! 

With a little forethought and planning, many enterprising families have found ways to integrate regular community service into their daily schedules, regardless of age. 

1. ‘Thank you’ letter-writing opportunities.

Several nonprofits host initiatives where volunteers can write letters thanking donors for their support. 

For example, Let Them Live’s “Gratitude Program” allows volunteers to both write and mail letters on the nonprofit’s behalf to give donors “a tangible reminder of our appreciation.” 

Because letters can be written at the family’s convenience, this volunteer opportunity can take place in the comfort of one’s own home and whenever scheduling allows. 

While very young children may not be able to participate in handwriting, they can always help by adding stamps and sealing envelopes. 

2. Meal or food delivery.

Helping to prepare or transport a meal to people in need is another avenue where families can work together without age restrictions. 

Meal deliveries can take place through various organizations. One example is Food Rescue, which works to reduce food waste by mobilizing volunteers to transport surplus fresh food from local businesses to social service agencies. As a result, food that would have ended up in landfills ends up going to people who really need it. 

Another option is the nationwide nonprofit Meals on Wheels, which partners with local programs and government agencies to deliver food to homebound seniors. 

Children of any age range can typically accompany their parents in delivering meals, and many of these nonprofits actively encourage children to do so. 

3. Shopping lists.

Nonprofits such as City Union Mission have year-round collection drives of food, clothing and other items that families in need request on a regular basis.  

Additionally, charities and organizations host fundraisers with recommended donations such as back-to-school supplies and shelf-stable products for local food pantries. 

Children can help shop for such commodities with a grownup before they get delivered, even helping to cross off items as they’re chosen and bought. 

4. Child sponsorship.

Many sponsorship organizations such as Compassion International allow families in the U.S. to write letters to children they support in other countries. The sponsorship programs typically include educational help, food assistance and, occasionally, housing development.  

Young children also can take part in writing these letters, from drawing their own artwork to submitting small gifts like stickers, bookmarks and other items that can fit within the letter’s envelope. 

5. Donation drives.

Some families will collect gently used items from their households or neighborhoods that can benefit local shelters or community services. 

Children can help with sorting and collecting, as well as contributing a few toys they’ve outgrown if they are still in good working condition. 

6. Community gardens.

Children of any age are welcome to visit community gardens and help water, weed and care for various plants. Many senior volunteers there will enjoy the opportunity to meet and mentor any young helpers eager to develop a green thumb! 

Parents interested in volunteering can check with their county or city to see available options. Plus, gardening can provide an excellent way to teach children where their food comes from (hint – it’s not ultimately a grocery store or delivery package)! 

7. Recycling and litter pickup.

Have you taught your young children how to sort different items for specific recycling purposes? From even an early age, they can learn to identify different materials such as paper, glass, and plastic.  

Another learning opportunity for older children can involve recognizing the three-arrow symbol associated with recycling, along with searching for the number in the middle of the symbol. (These numbers stand for resin identification codes, which recycling plants use to sort materials. The numbers don’t always mean that the container is recyclable, as this article explains.) 

If you want to try an extra challenge, consider picking up litter in a wildlife area or around your neighborhood as a community service project. For safety precautions, parents can help their children wear gloves and use a garbage grabber tool, which is relatively inexpensive. 

8. Intergenerational interactions.

Children can often brighten a senior citizen’s day in many ways, from visiting nursing homes to preserving historical legacies through interviewing.  

The Library of Congress has several resources that families can use for oral history interviews, including this article on planning an oral history project. 

Or it can be as simple as a playdate to the park, a field trip or a shared collection of scrapbooking or other such craft. 

Digital technology also can help your children connect with seniors, with video calls and livestreaming as options to stay in touch without the additional burdens of transportation to and from long distances. 

By using these and other community service ideas, families don’t have to slap an age restriction on helping others. 

Enjoy the rest of summer, and don’t forget to explore, or create your own, volunteering projects!