A few weeks ago, I stressed the importance of not wasting food (see my post on it here!) not only from a personally financial standpoint, but environmentally speaking, as well. Avoiding food waste is something I’m uber-passionate about, but it’s not just because I live a frugal lifestyle and hate to waste a dollar on a cucumber that I let go to rot. It’s also because for as long as I can remember, I’ve been particularly mindful of just how many people in the world are hungry and food insecure. It breaks my heart to think that as children in this very country and around the world do not know when their next hot meal will be, more fortunate individuals are dumping containers of perfectly good leftovers into the trash and never getting around to using up the items that have sat on their pantry shelves for months. If we are lucky enough to have the luxury of wasting food if we want to, then it’s essential we use our good fortune to remind ourselves of those who do not have that luxury, and help where we can.
I’m certainly far from the most altruistic and charitable person. I can improve a lot in that category of life, for sure. But I realize one of the best ways to perpetuate altruism is by trying my best to instill this trait as a parent. This is harder than it seems. One can’t force young children to be charitable, and as parents, we want it to come naturally. But what I’m learning is that the best way to impart selflessness is simply by introducing issues you are passionate about and providing age-appropriate opportunity when possible. The rest will develop organically when it’s time.
As far as our own household, we try our best to expose our 8 year old, Aidan, to the truth of the issues we care about as much as we can. When it comes to the food insecure, there are plenty of simple ways we have been able to include Aidan in helping. I’d love to share how rewarding they have been. I encourage you to give some a try with your family!
STOP Hunger Now: We recently participated in our first Stop Hunger Now meal-packaging event at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church. This is an amazing organization that engages volunteers to package meals for the globally undernourished. When I heard about this event, I was thrilled to learn that young children could also participate, which is often not the case when it comes to other volunteer-based experiences where food handling is involved. To say that it was a rewarding experience would be a vast understatement. We worked with other volunteers to prepare and package meals that will go to an undernourished population. Aidan was able to help scoop rice into the packages, slip in the vitamin packs, and “run” the prepped packages to the weighing station. Every time we reached another 1,000 count of meals packaged, the whole room would cheer and celebrate. It’s hard to motivate an 8 year old to step aside from his everyday life to do something that’s completely not about him, but my heart filled with warmth when I saw how excited he got every time we reached another 1,000 meals. It was so satisfying to be able to tell Aidan that someone in the world suffering from hunger will be nourished from the very meal he just prepared with his own hands. It makes the whole concept so tangible. This, of course, won’t completely end Aidan’s pickiness over vegetables, or his occasional wasted packed lunch at school, but perhaps the next time I talk about hungry people in the world, it will have more meaning, and he’ll feel proud that he did his part to help out. For more information about Stop Hunger Now events, visit here.
Fredericksburg Area Food Bank: I try to remind my son that it’s not just third world countries that have people suffering from hunger. Right here in our own town, there are plenty of food insecure families that need assistance. The Fredericksburg Area Food Bank serves not only the Fredericksburg region but many surrounding areas, and they are always looking for more donations and have plenty of volunteer opportunities. Because Aidan is not old enough to participate in many of the opportunities available, we have instead focused on donating grocery items for their food bank. I encourage Aidan to use some of his own money for donations, and I will “match” that amount. At the grocery store, Aidan can pick out whatever non-perishable items he would like to donate. The food bank has been gracious enough to take him on a little private tour when we’ve dropped items off. I was happy he got to see volunteers working on separating and organizing items, as well as the areas where individuals can come to utilize the food bank and shop for their families. It’s humbling to remind ourselves that not everyone has the luxury of picking and choosing whatever items they want from grocery stores. For more information about the many ways in which you can get involved with the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, click here.
Loisann’s Hope House: The Hope House is a non-profit organization that assists homeless children and families in the Rappahannock Region. In addition to providing shelter, case management, and day care, they also provide general housing assistance, and of course, that also includes food and personal care items. I have enjoyed including Aidan in helping me donate to this wonderful local organization. It has opened up a lot of conversation about homelessness, food and job insecurity, and resources for those in need. I think it’s so important that our children are taught and then reminded that not everyone may have the security that we might take for granted. As with the Food Bank, Aidan has helped me contribute to the Hope House by using some of his money to purchase items to donate (see their current wish list here), and then bringing them by to drop off in person. The Hope House has always been so appreciative of anything that individuals can donate to help the families they serve, and I’ve loved watching the personal responsibility Aidan is able to show when he stops by to contribute. I can see the wheels turning in his head about the children that are being housed and provided day care by the Hope House, and how different their experience is from his own. Explaining the circumstances that can lead to food and housing insecurity can be tricky with a young child, but it has to start somewhere. For more information about the Hope House and for ways you can help, visit here.
Whether you live in the Rappahannock region or elsewhere, there are plenty of opportunities to get your children involved in helping to alleviate food insecurity for those in need. In addition to larger organizations likes Stop Hunger Now, check out your local food bank to see how your family can be of assistance. Contact homeless shelters in your area to discover ways in which you can donate and volunteer. Have family conversations with your children about world hunger, the food insecure, and help them to brainstorm ways in which they might be able to assist. Perhaps your children have ideas of their own, such as initiating a food drive at their school, or asking for donations for the food bank in lieu of birthday gifts. Finally, continue to be mindful of your family’s own responsibility with food, shopping, and waste. Encourage your children not to waste food and connect the dots for them about how this goes hand in hand with hungry people elsewhere. It’s never too early to start helping those who would otherwise go without!