By Pam Koner
As a mom, entrepreneur and founder of a grassroots charitable organization, I get lots of questions about what to give, when to give and how to make giving as a family most meaningful. I welcome those questions because the impulse to share our own bounty with those in need is core to our humanity, and a particularly welcome sign in a period of increasing hostility, anger and fear.
There are no bad ways to give, of course. But there are also ways to “bake” charitable giving as a family into your regular routines – to transform it from a once or twice a year thought or deed into an integral part of your family’s character and habits. Can you imagine a more powerful way to teach your children about empathy and kindness? To give them the heady rush of feeling they’ve helped someone? Of lessening the pressure to find time or money to give during a single, typically harried month of the year?
So how does it work? By creating an annual calendar of giving that involves your whole family. The illustration below shows the year-round giving programs that my organization, Family-to-Family, supports. But you can make your own calendar and align with any charity that feels right to you. Because what matters isn’t just what you do, but the commitment you’re making to embed charitable giving into your collective lives.
How old are your kids? What interests or worries them? How much time can everyone allot each month? What’s practical given your circumstances and budget?
As you think about these and other relevant questions, your own calendar will take shape. Whether your calendar covers every month, every two months, or once a quarter to start, it will bring some kind of project that takes your family—your kids in particular—out of their own heads and lives and puts them into someone else’s shoes. And that ultimately is the best way to learn empathy.
Here are a few of my favorite projects for giving as a family:
- Birthday Celebrations in a Box: Start a tradition of generosity on your kids’ birthdays by hosting a party in which all of the birthday child’s friend’s assemble individual boxes of goodies (including cake mix, frosting and candles) for a group of needy children so they can enjoy nice birthdays too.
- Stuffed Shirts: Help your kids stuff a t-shirt or gym bag with soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and other necessary toiletries. These are precious and hard to come by items for those living on the streets or in extreme poverty.
- All Dolled Up: Help your kids and their friends choose, clean and dress up gently used dolls to pass on to little ones in need.
- One Book at a Time: Have your kids choose and buy one book a month to send to a book-hungry child in need. Encourage your kid to write a letter to include with the book and create a new pen pal.
- Sponsor a Family: Through your local food pantry, Family-to-Family or another charity, your family can provide grocery donations every month that give a family in need 7 dinners. Enhance your sponsorship by occasionally sending old, gently used clothes and personal letters, especially from your kids to those in the sponsored families.
Sharing your bounty with those who have far less is not only surprisingly easy and fun, but will enrich your family’s life in ways you won’t realize until you’re in the “doing.” I hear frequently from donating moms and dads throughout the country that they are amazed at how much a “Calendar of Giving” has taught their children about empathy and generosity of spirit. What better way than to open their own hearts in new and positive ways?
You might find some inspiration from Family-to-Family’s Calendar of Giving for 2016. I hope the ideas get your family excited to share your bounty this year.
Pam Koner is the founder and executive director of Family-to-Family, as well as Chairman of its Board of Directors, and she manages Family-to-Family full time. A former entrepreneur in Hastings on Hudson, New York, Pam developed and ran The Homework Club Programs, a group of creative arts based childcare programs. Pam was formerly a fashion stylist and producer, and is the mother of two daughters, Olivia and Chloe.