Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.Psalm 107:8-9 NIV
When my kids were younger, I enjoyed finding ways to (hopefully) teach them gratitude and appreciation in various formats. I also wanted to instill compassion for others in my children’s hearts from a young age.
Over the years, we found various ways to serve. And most of the time, I felt like I benefited from the experience more than my kids.
We’d lived in Virginia for less than six months when Thanksgiving approached. I located a soup kitchen nearby and volunteered to serve close to the holidays. The director placed us on sandwich duty. In preparation for the guests to arrive, my four-year-old and seven-year-old unwrapped cheese; I spread mayo onto bread slices stacked on a plate while wrangling my one-year-old.
Our yet-again military move was still vaguely familiar to me, a move that took an eighteen-wheeler to cart our possessions from Jacksonville, Florida to Stafford, Virginia. I felt like we were a family of meager status – after all, I’d chosen to be a stay-at-home mom and we lived frugally on one salary.
But I was quickly reminded that we were way “more than meager,” than the homeless community who showed up that day for sandwiches and soup, with all their worldly goods toted in a few plastic sacks or a borrowed backpack.
The soup “kitchen” was a kitchen by moniker only. We set up and served in a park on the south side of town. At one point in the sandwich prep, one of the adult volunteers dropped a slice of bread onto the ground. When she retrieved the bread and turned to toss it into the trash bin, the director stopped her, took the bread from her hand, brushed it off and placed it onto the plate near me for the next step.
The director said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have any food to spare. This bread will be fine. It only landed in the grass.”
No one countered the director, but the silence of the adults spoke volumes.
The guests were gracious and grateful for a sandwich, bowl of soup, and a cookie. We chatted with several of the women and men in attendance, and then cleaned up afterwards, before returning home.
The soup kitchen opportunity gave me an extra helping of thanksgiving for the holidays that year. I hope it did the same for my children.
Here’s a few ideas for your family to integrate during the coming holidays to bond as a family and give back to others, too.
- Volunteer to walk dogs at the humane society. Take along some dog or cat food to donate on your visit.
- Prepare and freeze a favorite casserole recipe. Deliver to a sick friend sometime this month.
- Bake cookies to deliver to a women’s shelter.
- Shop together to purchase school supplies. Deliver the supplies to your kids’ teachers or a nearby school for teachers to share with needy kids.
- Purchase favorite board games and deliver them as a family to a children’s home.
- Rake an elderly neighbor’s yard.
- Write letters to military members stationed overseas. Several sites online coordinate letters for deployed men and women, like Support Our Troops.
- Donate new toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes to a homeless shelter.
- Offer to babysit for a new mom so that she can get a much-needed nap or run an important errand.
- Shop for and donate new books and toys to first responders to share with kids during difficult events.
- Visit a nursing home as a family and spend some time with residents there.
- Write thank you notes to school bus drivers, church custodians, library volunteers, or other people you encounter whom you might forget to thank on a regular basis.
- Have each person in the family write encouraging notes to every family member sometime this month.
- Find out if an assisted living home in your area has birdfeeders. Purchase and deliver birdseed for the home to refill their feeders.
- Make a no-sew blanket to deliver to a hospice center.
- Volunteer to read to residents in nursing homes.
What else would you add to the list? In what ways has your family served others with your time or money or talents? Share your ideas and stories below.
A Heaping Helping of Gratitude: Finding ways to serve as a family this Thanksgiving @jlavenderwrites #Thanksgiving #GratitudeTweet