The other day, my preschooler asked me a question that inspired us to help the homeless as a family. “Everyone has a home, right, Mom?” she wondered.
“No, sweetie. Some people don’t have homes.”
Peeper’s question opened the door to talk about homelessness—and what, exactly, it means. Even better, it inspired us to do something to help the homeless.
Her question prompted us to fill a stocking for the homeless with the most in-demand items that help people without reliable housing. We’ll give the stocking, which was sewn by volunteers at the Portland area nonprofit Fill a Stocking, Fill a Heart, to a business collecting them for people who don’t have enough. When reading about Fill a Stocking, I learned that the stockings and supplies go to lots of people, including homebound seniors and kids in foster homes. I also learned that many of the people who receive the stockings won’t get any other present this holiday.
For at least one person, my kids and I will give back this Christmas.
Helping kids understand homelessness
The day Peeper asked about homelessness was not the first time the topic has come up. Not long ago, we made a gift package for a homeless child that included a heart pillow and a hand-painted game.
Although homelessness wasn’t a totally unfamiliar topic, the concept is a bit abstract for many children (although it’s a terrible reality for other kids: 2.5 million American children experience homelessness every year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. That’s one in every 30 children nationwide). So I asked Peeper some questions to get her thinking:
- Where do you think people sleep if they don’t have a home?
- Would you feel hot or cold if you slept outside in the winter?
- What kinds of things would you need if you had no home? What kinds of things might make you feel good?
Shopping for the homeless, teaching kids
Later, we went shopping to fill a stocking for the homeless. As we walked around the store, I asked for Peeper’s help as we picked out a toothbrush, razors, socks and more. She loves helping—and keeping her focused on choosing a toothpaste prevents the preschooler frenzy of “Can I have this? How about this? This? And this?!?” (Bonus.)
Older kids could even read a list and find each item, like a scavenger hunt. Peeper still can’t read so we walked up and down each aisle to find the items most needed by people who are homeless.
When a lesson of doing good hits home
As I stood looking at flashlights, Peeper tapped my leg.
“Can we buy a tent?” she asked.
It took me a second to realize why she wanted to buy a tent: We had talked about how some people who are homeless sleep in tents outside.
My 3-year-old wanted to buy a tent to put a roof over someone’s head.
I nearly cried. We didn’t end up buying a tent—they didn’t sell them at the Dollar Store, and one wouldn’t fit in the stocking we were filling anyway—but my child’s desire to help someone filled me with love and hope.
Small acts of kindness add up to big change
I’ve been struggling ever since the outcome of the 2016 election. I’m afraid, angry, disappointed—but not nearly to the extent of the many Americans who will be directly harmed by the policies president-elect Donald Trump wants to enact. I’ve been feeling powerless and frustrated, too.
So I’ve been focusing on how I can create positive change, even on a small scale.
For me, that means signing up to welcome and orient newly arrived refugee families. It means telling my children I love them and asking for extra hugs when I’m sad. It means asking the checkout lady how she’s doing and actually listening. It means donating food to our local food pantry. It means marching in peaceful protests and demonstrating in rallies.
I’ve been doing my best to involve my children in giving back, too. My girls are blissfully ignorant of how the election may change our country—or even what an election is. But the 2016 election makes it even more important that we all raise our children to be kind, compassionate, empathetic change-makers.
I want them to know that their efforts matter. Just as every vote matters, every act of kindness can improve the world. That’s one reason why I wanted to fill a stocking to help the homeless, even if my inner cynic snickered at such a small gesture.
A package of soap, razors and batteries won’t get someone off the streets. But the gesture may make him feel a tad better, and that’s something.
Peeper helped me shop for and pack up a stocking that will help the homeless in our community. It’ll take a while for her to fully understand what and why we’re doing, exactly, but it’s one step in my goal of raising empathetic kids—children who may, one day, create positive change on a much wider scale.
Can you fill a stocking for the homeless, put together a bag you can give to someone on the street (sometimes called blessing bags) or help in some other way? In case you’d like to put together a package for someone who is homeless, read on for ideas.
The most-needed items for the homeless
- Hygiene items: toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, soap, alcohol-free mouthwash, deodorant, lotion, Vaseline, lip balm, razors and shaving cream
- First aid kit or first aid items: bandages in different sizes, antibacterial wipes, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, blister pads such as Moleskin, cough drops
- Hand sanitizer
- Warm hat and gloves
- Flashlight and batteries
- Hand warmers
- Notepad and mechanical pencils
- Activity books such as word searches
- Snacks such as trail mix, jerky, tuna kits, dried fruit. Softer snacks are better, as some people experiencing homelessness can’t chew sticky or hard foods.
The winter is cold. How can you help the homeless? How can you involve your kids?
This post is not sponsored. I learned about Fill a Stocking, Fill a Heart when I picked up a stocking at my local dry cleaner. The volunteer-run organization works with other nonprofits throughout Clackamas County to ensure people who need extra help—the homeless, homebound seniors, kids in foster care and more—are remembered during the holidays.
To fill a stocking for the homeless and others, pick one up at any of the businesses listed here.
Want to do more good with your kids? For ideas on how to help as a family, check out my other doing good posts.
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