It’s easy to feel like our children’s values can get skewed, especially at this time of year when they are so often on the receiving end of goodies. Yet at a time in our world when so many people are struggling just to pay their bills or are looking for work, there are many ways we can encourage our kids to give of themselves and do for others.  By helping others, we are not only giving a gift to those in need, but also to our children, who can experience the joy of making a positive impact on the lives of others.

Below are a few simple suggestions for ways to get your children involved in giving, not just in December, but year-round. In fact, many charities enjoy a surge of volunteers around the holidays but would love to have more helping hands during the other eleven months of the year. (Be sure to call the organizations first to make sure kids are welcome and to sign up for a shift.)

1.    Shovel snow or rake leaves for neighbors to raise money for charity or just to help elderly neighbors.

2.    Prepare a meal and deliver it to a homeless shelter, or sign up to serve a meal at a shelter.  The Baked Ziti recipe below is an easy one for kids to help to prepare and deliver.

3.    Spend an afternoon playing cards, board games, etc. with residents at a nursing home or group home.

4.    Volunteer at an animal shelter or donate used blankets and towels to animal shelters. (One of Celia’s friends asks for toys for animals at shelters rather than gifts for her birthday each year.)

5.    Sort food, clothing or furniture at a food bank or homeless organization. If you can, go to Costco or another big box store and fill up your trunk with nonperishable food to donate.

6.    Go for a walk in a public park or near a stream and pick up trash. (Make sure to bring work gloves and separate bags for recycling and trash.)

7.    Before new gifts come into the house, clean, sort and donate gently used clothes and toys to charity.  (This has the added benefit of keeping your house clutter-free.)

8.    Invite your friends and neighbors to a holiday gift-giving party, with the gifts going to families in need.

9.    Send letters and/or care packages to military stationed overseas (our neighbor, whose son is in Afghanistan, says baby wipes and candy are highly valued, and the USO website is a good resource).

10.    Finally, here are a few of my favorite nonprofit organizations where kids can get involved in choosing the donations and/or beneficiaries: Give a farm animal to rural families around the world through www.Heifer.org, fulfill the wish lists of teachers at low income schools at Donors Choose, or give a microloan to a small business in a third world country through Kiva.

I’d love to hear how you and your family get involved in giving back to your community. Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments below.

Recipe: Easy Baked Ziti

  • Prep Time: 20 min(s)
  • Cook Time: 20 min(s)
  • Total Time: 40 min(s)
  • Servings: 8, about 1 1/2 cups

Baked Ziti with only 6 ingredients is healthy and easy for your kids to make for your family or deliver to families in need.

Ingredients

    • 16 oz. whole wheat or traditional ziti
    • 26 oz. red pasta sauce, any variety
    • 1 cup part-skim ricotta or low fat cottage cheese
    • 1 – 2 cups fresh or shredded mozzarella cheese, diced if using fresh mozzarella, to taste
    • 1-2 cups frozen peas, diced bell pepper, shredded zucchini, or diced cooked chicken or sausage (optional)
    • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

    • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and spray a large deep casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the noodles according to the package directions until they are al dente (slightly firm to the bite), and drain them.  Return the noodles to the pot and toss them with the sauce, ricotta or cottage cheese, mozzarella, and any vegetables or cooked meat (optional).
    • Spread the mixture evenly in the casserole dish and top it with Parmesan cheese.  Bake it, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or slightly longer for a firmer top. Serve it immediately, or refrigerate it for up to 3 days, or freeze it for up to 3 months.

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