Improving Lives

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

Food Waste & Family Dinners: Share your Insights!

Did your last family meal conclude with extras being scraped into the compost or garbage can?  Mine did. Now I'm haunted by last week's Science Friday, "Waste Not: The Ugly Truth about Food Waste in America?

It haunts me. They estimate half a hamburger wastes as much water as an hour long shower!

With young kids in the house, waste is practically unavoidable.

Learning to eat a well-balanced diet is a process - parents are told to try, try again when kids resist healthy foods.

And my little ones are truly poor eaters in between growth spurts. When they're growing, give them (almost) anything and it disappears. Between times, even much-loved dishes sit barely touched at the end of the meal.

I'm not a fan of waste, of course, so I save what I can for the next meal.

Often, those saved bits get tossed.

If this issues haunts you as well, check out Rethink Recycling and their article "How to Keep Food Waste out of the Garbage."

Most helpful was their List of Companies that offer food recovery services in the metro area. Given the vast impact of institutional food waste, I'm choosing to worry less about the small scale waste of my own learning eaters.

Instead, I'm going to check out the institutions around me. If I can help an organization or two redirect unserved portions to a local shelter, the impact on waste, and on the community will be significantly greater.

And by talking about this issue with my children, perhaps they will be more aware about what they leave on their plate at the end of a meal.