Where I live, there is a substantial homeless population. We can’t drive through our town without seeing homeless people standing on corners. One day, my eldest started asking me to read their signs to her. This quickly morphed into a teachable moment in a way I did not anticipate. Upon hearing that the people on the corners held signs asking for money, my daughter asked if we could give them some, thinking that if someone needs help, we should help them. Of course, you can’t say yes to every person on the corner, especially where I live, you’d be out $20 every time you leave the house. When I replied, “No,” her question changed. “Why not?” she asked. Instead of saying, “Because I said so.” I started using these moments to talk about how we can’t give money to everyone who asks and to ask her how we should decide who we give money to.
Our synagogue sometimes puts out little care packages for people in need. Bags containing crackers, hand warming packets, toothbrushes, etc. The idea is that as you leave temple, you grab a few bags and give them to people in the community who need them. So we did. We put some in the back of the car and instead of offering money to the homeless people on the corners, we gave them these care packages. This offered me another unexpected opportunity to start teaching my kids about giving back, and how that doesn’t always mean donating money.
This experience spawned a new tradition in our family. When we go to a bulk store, we buy things to make our own care packages that we keep in the car and hand out to people in need. We can all make our own judgments about the homeless people standing on the corners and how they intend to use the money they ask for. But the way I see it, if you are standing on the corner asking for money a small care package will not go unappreciated.
Another thing we do with our children is, every Friday night we take all our spare change and put it in a box. When the box fills up we sit down as a family and count the money (Yay, impromptu math lessons). Then, we ask the kids what they would like to donate the money to. My kids are too young to be familiar with the nonprofits in our area, so we pick out two or three options that they can choose from. These are always places or causes that they would be familiar with: their school, our synagogue, animal shelters, etc. I’ll print out some pictures from the organization’s website and we have a conversation about where the money will go. This has lead to many conversations with my eldest that I don’t think we would have had any other way.
Lastly, when I leave to do an auction, my eldest and I talk about the organization I’m going to help and why I chose to work with them. She’s learning lots about the different nonprofits in our area and about my personal giving philosophy.
In the coming years I will involve my younger children more and more in these conversations and activities. Hopefully, they’ll grow up with a sense of gratitude for what they have and a feeling of responsibility to help others.
How do you engage your children in philanthropy? Let me know in the comments.