Charitable Giving

Big Hearted Back To School Prep

August Book Club
August Book Club

It's that time of year again. My family, like so many of yours, is once again engulfed in all of the excitement, nervous planning, and - yes- shopping that goes along with a new class schedule. If' you're looking for big-hearted conversation starters, book ideas, and really great tips to add  a "giving" aspect to your back-to-school rituals check out the Doing Good Together newsletter.

My family has been enjoying the book Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts, which is this month's book club pick for Big-Hearted Families.

Those Shoes is exactly the type of story we hunt for here at Big-Hearted Families. It is a book full of thought-provoking ideas and real-life challenges. It’s also a beautifully written, heart-warming story that your family will want to pick up again and again.

My five-year-old has been asking for it at every story time lately.

This little book is packed with important ideas, such as:

>   Recognizing the difference between what we want and what we need is not always easy, for kids or adults.

>   We all have something valuable to give, no matter how much or how little we have.

>   Being generous is rewarding, but it can also be difficult.

There are still  a few copies available over at our shop, if you want to  bring this wonderful book - along with the recipe and activity - home for your family.

I found the clothing drive particularly helpful. Not only did the story and the conversation inspire my girls to clear out the clutter of beautiful but rarely worn clothes in the back of their closet, but it got them talking to their friends about "gently worn" or even new donations.

We'll be making our drop off on Monday -three large bags full of barely worn children's clothes and shoes.

Plus, as we school shop for ourselves, we're working hard to identify "need" versus "want," in an effort to avoid cluttering up the closets once again with more than we can wear.  Thankfully, my girls are young enough that they are as unconcerned as I am by brands and trends, so coveting the latest pair of .... whatever is trendy this fall... won't be a hurdle for us. I am hopeful that folding "giving" aspects into our back-to-school rituals will help make future years a little easier to manage, even after they become more socially aware.

How are you making back-to-school season a time of giving and reflection with your family?

A Big-Hearted Neighborhood

may day 004 Summer is a great opportunity to build neighborhood memories with a big hearted project or two.

We recently completed the first big-hearted project with our new neighbors. We tackled a small craft project, testing out one of the upcoming Big Hearted Families book club activities.

Big-Hearted Families' activities build great neighborhood relationships for the same reason they build strong families:

  • They give you and excuse to spend time together, for longer than it takes to set out the trash or pick up the mail.
  • They give you something bigger to talk about than the weather or real estate market.
  • Plus, these projects contribute - in ways great and small - to your community.

As new members of our community, volunteering together gives us a great opportunity to build deeper connections more quickly.

During this season of summer gatherings, here are a few simple activities that may bring your neighborhood together:

  1. Make Sandwiches: With minimal preparation and just an hour of time together, your neighborhood can stock local homeless shelters with hundreds of sandwiches for their residents. Put on some fun music, tackle our discussion questions, and fire up the grill or order a few pizzas to make an evening of it!
  2. Make Birdseed Cookies: Decorate your neighborhood with edible treats for your feathered friends! Host a neighborhood gathering and set up a birdseed cookie table as a fun ice breaker. Later you can swap stories about the creatures you've spied snacking on your treats.
  3. Adopt the Local Food Shelf: Has your family set up a food shelf donation station in  your home? For a simple, no-party-necessary option, let your neighbors know when you regularly drop of your goodies and welcome them to add to the collection. Offer gentle reminders just before each donation and let them know of any unique seasonal needs.

Hurricane Sandy Update from our Friends at Points of Light

"How can we help?"

It's a question my family has been asking one another over the past week. It's a question Big-Hearted Families has been getting from members and pilot families and parents brand new to our resources.

I'm re-posting the following information from our friends over at Points of Light. Their links take you to specific volunteer or material donation needs, which is excellent.

Those of us that live far from the affected region can do the most good with that least glamorous of service activities: fundraising. If your children are interested in helping, check out the following projects, complete with discussion questions, book suggestions, and detailed steps to get started.

Get you friends and neighbors involved. Make it meaningful.

And let us know how it goes!


 Points of Light is working closely with our HandsOn Network affiliates and partner agencies to identify volunteer opportunities in the communities impacted by Hurricane Sandy to ensure a coordinated response. Please note that due to the number of people interested in volunteering, as soon as an opportunity is identified, it is filled. We are working with national and local partners to identify more opportunities in the midst of our current challenges, including transportation issues, lack of fuel in the area, identifying volunteer housing and massive power outages. These challenges make it difficult to get teams out to assess the need and scope projects. While we are working diligently, please understand it may be a few days before we increase the number of projects in the impacted area.

In the meantime, there are additional ways you can engage now:

We request that you do NOT self- deploy to the impacted region at this time. Given the above stated challenges if you do deploy you should have an opportunity and housing identified prior to arriving. As volunteer housing becomes available we will update our website with that information.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF... Goes Bust

I have to fess up. My intention to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF with the kids this year was a failure. Actually that implies I tried it without success. In fact, the lovely UNICEF boxes remain in the folder near my kitchen radio under a pile of other half-finished kid crafts.

Why does this sort of thing happen?

I thought this sounded like a wonderful project. I signed up. I fully intended, even as of noon yesterday, to follow through. I talked to the kids about how we'd do it....

Then I didn't give it another thought. Between feeding and dressing three little monsters up in their costumes, then doing my best to keep up with them as they wandered the neighborhood, I didn't have 30 seconds of thought to give to anything else.


Maybe this just isn't the project for us. I always get a little queasy when preparing to ask others for money, even when the cause is admirable. The kids are pretty reluctant fundraisers too.

In contrast, everyone in my house is all excited about our new match in the Family-to-Family book program, so I'll use that enthusiasm to ensure success in that project!

Did anyone else have better luck or find an easier way to turn Halloween chaos into a force for good?

Operation Paperback

Here is an excellent project to inspire your young readers, support our troops, and talk about citizenship and patriotism during this election season. I'm re-posting this from last fall, assuming that if I needed a reminder of this outstanding family volunteer opportunity, you might too. Also check out the Guest Post from Andrea Hoshmand McAfee, Vice President of Operation Paperback, Check out Operation Paperback for a great project that doesn't take long and is energizing for a young, enthusiastic reader. 

Miss First-Grader is consuming simple chapter books at a pace that puts me in the mood for a good Nancy Drew. Her new-found love of reading (especially the Pony Crazy Princess and My Weird School series) has her so excited that Operation Paperback seemed like the perfect way to spend a little bit of our MEA weekend.

This girl already looks forward to her time spent reading before bed, so she had no trouble imagining that soldiers, far from home and family, would enjoy the distraction and comfort of a good book.

This project was so easy.

First, we asked our friends and neighbors to contribute any good paperbacks they could.  We also picked a few off of our own bookshelves. We had a big box full in no time! My little reader loved this part, checking out titles, putting a couple of books aside to read when she's older (Anne of Green Gables, Wicked). Beware, though, I did have to censor a few back covers on the more thrilling murder mysteries.

Next, we signed up on the Operation Paperback site. Once you are a registered volunteer, this can be an easy, on-going project. In fact, we haven't mailed all of the books we collected yet - we ran out of the right sized box. As we get more, we'll send more. When you have a few books and a little time, just pop on the site, let them know what genre of book you have, and get the name and address of your recipient. Oh, and they offer easily printable labels for the books and a cover letter.

Then, we packed our boxes. We sent two, adding four mystery and crime novels in one and four history and memoir in the other. We also added the Operation Paperback cover-letter and a drawing from Miss First-Grader.

She actually struggled a bit as she wrote her thank you letter to the soldiers. She asked an important question.

"Mom, war is a bad thing, right? Then why are we helping the soldiers do war?" What a conversation starter. This was a great opportunity to talk about supporting our troops for their brave service even as we advocate for peace. It is such an important distinction. We talked while she drew a lovely, peaceful landscape. When she stopped asking questions, I let the subject drop, and she wrote a sweet thank you note.

Then, because it is Halloween season, she insisted on adding a few chocolates.

Finally, of course, we mailed the packages. Each box required a customs form, which took an extra couple of minutes. Thankfully, sending them as media mail meant that each package only cost about $3 to send.

Let's hope our soldiers like the books and the chocolate. I know my daughter and I enjoyed spending our time together sending a little kindness and some good stories into the world.

Assembling Care Kits: an easy weeknight act of service

Our resolve to actually put something on the calendar is paying off. Last week, amid gymnastics, piano, packing for a camping trip, and the first true homework assignments for Miss Second Grade, we completed a small, in-house service project last week. We assembled care kits for the homeless.

We actually encountered a few ladies who could have used a care kit last week on our way to a new park. When we saw them, our whole family shared the same sentiment: why don't we have those care packages on hand already.

During our regular grocery store visit, the kids and I grabbed the ingredients. We set aside an evening to assemble everything together.

Does your family want to assemble care kits for the homeless? Visit DGT’s project page to discover how!

The kids and I also printed out a little note, directing people to call the United Way 2-1-1, which refers people  to various services that can help.

Our reflection conversation touched only briefly on how grateful we are for what we have. The kids were more interested in talking about the practical distribution of these kits.

When can we hand them out? Who can we hand them out to? What if we are feeling shy?

These were useful questions. The kids have a history of doling out whatever they have to give to the first person they meet. We decided, for a number of reasons, that these kits are only for adults to hand out. The kids are invited to keep an eye out for someone in need, but actual distribution is a parent job.

I'm hoping extended conversations about homelessness, prompted by the questions in the "reflection section" of this project, will happen more naturally after we hand out a few kits.

I'll let you know.

Have you done a similar project? Share your story or rate the project here.

assembly line

assembly line

Collecting for a Cause

The start of the school year is the perfect time to establish or re-establish a habit of charitable giving. Here is a re-post from September 2010 to get you started! My family gave the change collected as a result of this post to a local food shelf. And then we let this habit lapse. Lately the kids have been hoarding change for their own amusement at the dollar store. I'm thinking it is time to repeat this activity!

This week in our effort to become a more giving family, we've started collecting our spare change for charity.

At 5 and just under 3, my girls aren't exactly money savvy. Still, they do have a stash of money in their piggy bank. When they raided those piggy banks to help our family become giraffe sponsors at the local zoo, I knew it was time to start saving for a cause.

Doing Good Together is a great resource for Charitable Giving. The girls and I spent an easy hour together decorating clean jars from the recycling bin. I cut the coin slot out of the lids while the girls went wild with markers and stickers.

We talked while we crafted about money. I learned that this is an intangible subject for them right now. To help them understand, we talked about all of the needs we have as a family: groceries, our house, water, electricity, and clothes. We talked about how these things cost money. We talked about earning money at a job. And how many people can't make enough money to pay for all of their needs.

I'm not sure how much sunk in, but they were certainly eager to start collecting for a cause.

Since their piggy banks were drained by our giraffe sponsorship, I contributed some from my own change jar. Seed money I told them.

Miss Kindergarten protested. "I don't want to buy seeds! I want to help the kids who don't have the things they need."

We had quite the conversation that day!

We have decided to wait until the jars are full before we make a donation anywhere. At that point, we'll find the right charity. For now, when they find wayward change around our house, they stash it in their jars. Their dad and I make contributions of our own. Thankfully, the jars are small, so they'll get the reward of giving soon.

Has your family made donations together? How have your kids responded?