9 Ways to Give Back as a Family—and Bond as You Do It

9 Ways to Give Back as a Family—and Bond as You Do It
People often look for ways to give back to their communities during times of crisis, and what better way to do so than by volunteering with your kids? There may be fewer in-person opportunities due to the coronavirus pandemic, but you can still find an activity that allows your family to spend a few extra hours together while doing good for other people. Although volunteering is rooted in helping others, the act may benefit you too. In a 2018 study of 1,504 people published in BMC Public Health, people who had volunteered within the past year reported feeling better physically, mentally, and socially.

Want to do your part but not sure where to start? Here are nine different ways that some families are giving back this fall and winter—and how you can follow suit.

1. Pick produce at a local farm.

Lauren T., 39, a Detroit writer and mom, has brought her six-year-old daughter with her to volunteer at a local farm, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative. “She helped pick tomatoes and clip herbs. It was really nice that she could spend some time outside and in nature and also see the immediate benefits of helping others,” Lauren tells SELF. Produce from the farm is available to people in the Detroit area for free or on a “pay what you can” pricing model.

Farms are burdened with rising operating costs during the COVID-19 pandemic and need assistance. You can find one in your area on Local Harvest’s website and reach out to learn how your family can help. While outdoor activities offer better ventilation compared with gathering indoors, there’s still a risk of spreading and contracting the coronavirus during this type of volunteering. You’ll want to practice the same public health measures that organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended throughout the pandemic, including mask wearing, staying home if you feel sick, and maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet. During your inquiry call with the local farm, be sure to ask about their COVID-19 safety measures,  such as reduced occupancy, and how they enforce these practices.

2. Help your neighbors get groceries and essential supplies.

Online neighborhood-based groups and mutual aid networks have been a valuable resource for people who are immunocompromised and senior citizens throughout the pandemic. These organizations can help by delivering groceries and supplies to people who may want to avoid going out in public. 

There are many ways to find networks in your area. Try searching your city or neighborhood name in Facebook groups, post or search on Twitter using hashtags for your local area, visit the Mutual Aid Hub database, or sign up for apps such as Nextdoor. People post their needs on the app, and others in their community can sign up to assist with the requested job. “It was extremely helpful when neighbors and their whole families got COVID and couldn’t get out to get meds or cleaning supplies,” Vickie J., 36, a Dallas mother who uses the app, tells SELF. “Someone would sign up and get the stuff they needed and leave it at their front door.”

You can also see if there’s a way to volunteer for your local food bank, even from home. Or you can make care kits that include hygiene and personal-care items that local organizations can distribute to people without homes in your area. Groups such as Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C., offer guides on how to do this. Research and contact similar organizations in your city to learn if they accept these kinds of donations.

3. Write letters to frontline workers and senior citizens.

Gift of Words pairs people who want to write letters to care workers with hospitals or senior homes. People working on the front lines are vulnerable to experiencing mental and physical exhaustion after months of long hours caring for COVID-19 patients. Sending a thank-you note to medical workers is a simple way to show your appreciation for their hard work.

Senior citizens living in care homes, who may not have any in-person visitors due to physical distancing, may feel especially isolated. Love for Our Elders, an organization that sends notes to senior facilities, makes volunteering with your kids easy. You can schedule family time to write thoughtful notes together.

4. Volunteer your skills.

In addition to letter writing, Gift of Words offers a volunteer mentoring program that provides free tutoring and educational activities to kids across the country. Student volunteers Zoom-chat with their designated mentee to play educational games, draw, or just talk. This way kids who are stuck at home because of COVID-19 don’t feel too isolated, says Vickie. Your kids can complete the organization’s application form to learn more about volunteering for the months of November and December.

Other organizations such as Family Promise allow families to search for volunteer opportunities nationwide that match their interests. For example, you can sign up to help another family with things like homework and budgeting, and everyone in your family can participate in the way that makes sense for their age and skills.

5. Ask for donations in lieu of birthday gifts.

New Jersey mom Pooja M., 42, hosts a birthday party for her daughter every year and asks people to bring unwrapped toys or books in lieu of gifts. Then she donates the items to an organization. “Ever since she was one, we’ve had a big party with family and close friends—the village—which, being Indian, a family party automatically means 60 people,” Pooja tells SELF. “This year, there will be no party, but we will still do the drive online and possibly expand it to friends in other places who wouldn’t ever be at the party,” she says. “I’ve always used this as a way to talk about consumption—needs and wants—and to think about inequality in the world. It’s a moment to discuss those things while celebrating her life.”

In the past Pooja has donated to Katy’s Place Child Development Center, a local on-site licensed childcare service. You can donate books to children in need through a nonprofit like First Book or a similar effort that’s local to you. Another option: When your kids get birthday or holiday gifts, take some time together to go through the books, toys, and clothes they currently own and decide what you can donate to a local shelter.

6. Clean up your community.

“Although it’s getting a bit chilly out, beach and stream cleanups are still possible in many areas of the country,” Shannon Brescher Shea, 37, a Maryland parent and the author of Growing Sustainable Together: Practical Resources for Raising Kind, Engaged, Resilient Children, tells SELF. “Although most cities aren’t running organized activities, you can just grab a plastic bag and some gloves and pick stuff up on your own as a family.” Other options, she says, include raking leaves for neighbors who need the help, clearing out community gardens in preparation for winter, helping maintain trails, and even planting trees through a local organization with that mission. “Every fall my family rakes leaves out of the cemetery that our house backs up to and uses the leaves as mulch for our garden,” she says.

7. Get crafty for a cause.

Project Tie-Dye is a kit-based, at-home community service project that is suitable for a variety of ages. Each kit includes a narrative with details about the recipient of the service project. “Last month we made a pillow and a bedtime book with the components from the kit, which tells a bit about why those are important—when children live in transient living situations, it can really impact their sleep, and these two gifts provide comfort,” Janelle C., 39, a Los Angeles mom whose six-year-old loves the kit, tells SELF. “The kid gets to keep a certificate of giving once they donate, and we are keeping ours in a binder. We really love it!” The community service kit costs $50.

Groups such as L.A. Works offer COVID-19–specific projects such as making protective face masks for others.

8. Donate blood.

“My blood type is O, and so a couple of years ago, I began donating blood,” Sari F., 46, a California parent and associate professor at La Sierra University, tells SELF. “After COVID struck, I made an appointment to donate blood. I knew there was a blood shortage, and I wanted to do what I could to help my community.” Just be aware that most states require blood donors to be at least 16 years old. But Sari uses the opportunity to remind her six-year-old daughter that “it’s important that we help people when we can.” You can find a place and time to donate on the American Red Cross website.

9. Do a Turkey Trot as a family.

Turkey Trots are a holiday hallmark for many people looking to get active as a family during this time of year, although they’ll look a little bit different in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of doing a race as a family with a ton of other people, see if there’s a virtual Turkey Trot you can participate in that benefits a cause that’s important to all of you. Different Turkey Trots have different rules—for some, you pay an entry fee that goes to charity, and for others, entering means you’re signing up to fundraise a certain amount. Either way, the “virtual” aspect typically means you can choose your own course in any location instead of sticking to a predetermined race route. If you really want to dive into volunteering with your kids, you can even combine your family Turkey Trot with some of the other tips on this list, like cleaning up your neighborhood or dropping off books at a shelter.

There are so many creative ways you can help others—even during the middle of a pandemic. Discuss these (and other) ideas with your family to get them excited about volunteering, and then create a plan. You’ll get some family bonding time while helping others who need it this time of year.

This article is presented by Volvo.

Related:

  • 7 Parents on Tackling Their Kids’ Questions About Death and Coronavirus

  • 16 Organizations That Need Your Support Right Now

  • 25 Wonderful Self-Care Gifts for People Who Are Super Stressed

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