I received a free craft kit from Little Loving Hands to try out. As always, all opinions here are my own.
My Peeper, she has one of the kindest, most empathetic hearts I’ve ever known. She brings Kiwi’s favorite toys to her when Little Sister is crying. She covers me in kisses if I stub my toe (including the time a few weeks ago when I’m pretty sure I broke my pinkie toe—ouch!). She gets choked up if a character in a book is sad.
So it’s natural that she wants to help others.
Volunteering opportunities for preschoolers and younger kids are slim pickings, though. I keep an eye out for children’s volunteering activities but rarely find a way to bring her along.
So we create our own volunteering opportunities at home. We make cards for Meals on Wheels. We do the monthly activities, like cleaning up the nearby park and making bird feeders, sent to us by Giving Families. And recently, we made a craft for a homeless child living in a shelter with the kit from Little Loving Hands.
Children living in homeless shelters
The Little Loving Hands box arrived in the mail and Peeper couldn’t wait to get started. Inside the Hearts for the Homeless box, we found everything we needed to make a present for a child living in a homeless shelter.
Homelessness is an enormous problem in our country. Rent is skyrocketing in many towns, even in my backyard. In fact, rents in Portland jumped so high, so fast that it saw the greatest increase in rent prices in any city in the country this spring. The pressures translate to more people—and especially families—who do not have a reliable, safe place to live.
The result: Three in every 200 American children are homeless, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Many more are at risk of homelessness.
The statistic is heartbreaking. Perhaps that’s why the crafts we made were in the shape of a heart—a whole heart.
Kids volunteering at home with a ready-made craft kit
One of the benefits of doing a kit like the one from Little Loving Hands was that everything we needed was mailed straight to us: I didn’t have to hit up the craft store; I didn’t have to figure out what project to do; I didn’t have to find a charity that would accept our gift. All we had to do was jump in!
We started with crafting a pillow. Peeper stenciled the word “JOY” on the enclosed felt, and we talked about what that word meant. She was so proud to do everything herself!
She also painted wooden hearts to create a memory matching game. After all, kids living in a homeless shelter often come with just the bare essentials, or nothing at all, and every kid needs to have fun.
When the paint dried, I helped tie the pillow together. (Older kids could do this themselves.) Then Peeper filled it with stuffing, which she thought looked like Finn fur (and our dog hair-covered carpet, but shhh pretend you don’t notice.) Finally, we packed it all up in the pre-addressed, pre-paid mailing envelope.
Once we dropped it off at the post office, Peeper’s handmade project shipped off to Enchanted Makeovers, a Michigan-based nonprofit that creates opportunity for creativity and self-worth for mothers and kids in shelters across the country.
Explaining tough topics
As Peeper worked on her craft project, we talked about whom we would send it to. I told her that some children don’t have homes, and we imagined what that would feel like. I compared homelessness to lost dogs at the pound, since she was familiar with the concept from watching Lady and the Tramp.
The Little Loving Hands kit came with suggestions on how to broach the topic of homelessness with children. The talking points are helpful as a way to start, but of course every parent must customize the conversation to make it age-appropriate and relatable to their kids.
Talking about big, tough topics—homelessness, violence, death—is never easy. But avoiding the subjects just makes them scarier to kids. Being open about tough topics, rather than creating a bunch of taboos, will keep communication open for years to come.
I was a little nervous about how Peeper would take the whole homelessness topic. After all, she is incredibly empathetic and has a lot of feelings. I was also unsure of how she’d feel about shipping off her handmade craft instead of keeping it for herself.
But Peeper’s heart reached out to those kids in homeless shelters. She couldn’t wait to mail her pillow and game to the “children who have no houses.”
Since then, she asks every so often if we can make something for the children who have no houses. We don’t have another craft kit (though we could order one on the web site), but we could make our own trinkets and comforting gifts to donate to a shelter.
We also have a bag that we continually fill with nonperishable food, travel-sized hygiene products and other items that we donate to the West Linn Food Pantry. Giving back is simply part of our family life, and I trust Peeper will grow up with that spirit.
Creating opportunities to understand privilege
We live in a very affluent town outside Portland. We sleep in a house we own. We have enough food, we can pay for electricity, and we can afford to dress ourselves in warm clothes when the temperature drops.
We are unspeakably fortunate.
As my girls grow up, I want them to understand that much of the world is not so lucky. I want them to appreciate the things they have. And I want them to have compassion for those whose circumstances are harder than ours.
Most of all, though, I want them to do something about it.
Stenciling the word “JOY” on a pillow is a small something. But Peeper is small. As she grows, she will be able to take bigger steps in addressing inequality in our community and farther away.
Kids volunteering at home or, as opportunities allow, in the community lays the foundation for a life of action and justice. Even if it’s hard for my family to, say, sort cans at a food bank right now, we can give back from home.
And perhaps, for the child who received Peeper’s Joy pillow and heart game, that small gesture made a big difference.
Do you volunteer with your kids? How do you teach them about giving back?