When Kristin Corona woke up to 10 inches of snow outside her Portland-area home earlier this month, her mind immediately turned to building snowmen, sledding and making snow angels with her two kids. But that’s not what Lucas, 6, thought of.
As he stared out the window at the untouched snow, he told his mom, “I’m really worried about people who don’t have houses right now.”
Kristin paused. “What can we do about it?” she wondered aloud.
That question has inspired ongoing action in the Corona household and beyond—through a kid-created Share the Warmth Club.
How can kids help the homeless?
Lucas, who also loves going to the zoo and playing board games, initially went through the house looking for warm clothes and blankets he could give to someone living outside. He even wanted to give away his bed.
His little sister was worried, too. “I’m so sad that homeless people are out in the coldness,” the 3-year-old says. “I wish people wouldn’t be cold in the snow.”
Kristin prompted the kids to think of how they could help.
Over the next few days, while the family was still stuck at home as the snow and ice kept much of the Portland metro area in place, Kristin, her husband Rodrigo, Lucas and Elena worked on the Share the Warmth Club.
Kristin launched a web site where supporters could donate money to buy cold-weather supplies such as sleeping bags and warm socks. The majority of the energy and action, though, came from Lucas and Elena.
Collecting bags of warmth
The kids wanted to involve their neighbors in collecting warm supplies for the homeless. So along with their cousins, 8-year-old Joselyn and 11-year-old Gustavo, they attached fliers explaining their project to plastic bags. The kids then tied the empty sacks to the door knobs of neighboring houses on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Lucas and Elena took different sides of the icy street; Elena insisted on distributing all her bags herself.
About a week later, it was time to collect the filled bags—but Kristin worried no one would donate.
“The whole reason I was so excited about this club was to show my kids they could make a difference in the world,” she says. “What if no one came through?”
Making a difference for Portland’s homeless
It turned out that the Corona family was in for a surprise—and a good one.
The kids were thrilled to find bag after bag of donated clothes, blankets and other supplies to keep people who are homeless warm during the winter.
Elena and Lucas walked up to each porch themselves as Kristin watched from the sidewalk and Rodrigo drove alongside. By the time they were done, they had filled the back of the car.
The family took the supplies to the Portland Rescue Mission, which runs a shelter downtown, offers 24/7 restrooms, refers to social service resources, runs community activities and, of course, provides free clothing, bedding and other essentials.
Elena and Lucas loaded their donations onto a scale (they collected 95 pounds of supplies!) and loved sending them down the chute. Even better, they met some of the people who will benefit from their caring work.
Several people approached the kids and thanked them. Lucas and Elena met the folks who often remain in the shadows—and remain out in the cold.
Continuing to help
So far, the Corona family has collected nearly 100 pounds of supplies to help people who are homeless and $400, which they used to buy sleeping bags, toiletries, blankets, socks and more. But they are not stopping there.
“On New Year’s Day I made a resolution to help 1,000 people this year,” Lucas says. He and the Share the Warmth Club are well on their way to that goal.
That’s a mighty resolution for someone so small. “When Lucas set his goal of helping 1,000 people this year I was proud and also overwhelmed, but now I feel totally empowered that we can do this,” Kristin says. “I just need to have the courage of a 6-year-old.”
After all, the kids have proved that you don’t have to be big to make a big difference.
“Some kids think about other people, not just themselves,” Lucas says. “I was happy when we went to the shelter, happy because the people had warm clothes.”
Advice on how kids can do good
Kristin has bumped into a common problem of parents who want to involve their kids in helping others: Most volunteering opportunities aren’t open to young children.
“I was thrilled to do something where both my kids could engage,” she said of the Share the Warmth Club.
She adds that any family can do good on their own without waiting for an organized volunteer event. Her biggest tip:
Let your kids take the lead.
“Focus on the areas your kids are passionate about or the things in the wold that bother them.”
So if your kids are obsessed with animals, collect dog food or old towels to use for bedding in an animal shelter.
If they’re runners, ask friends to pledge money during a neighborhood-wide run and give the donations to a favorite charity.
If they’re concerned about people they see on the street, make a series of care packages for the homeless. (Just remember to package toiletries and food separately so the snacks don’t taste like soap!)
“The world can be a scary place, even for us grown-ups,” Kristin says. “By doing something you take the power back and empower yourself. Your belief that you really can make a difference grows with each step forward you take.”
How you can help
If you’d like to donate to the Share the Warmth Club so Lucas and Elena can donate more supplies to the Portland Rescue Mission, you can give money here until February 1.
Do you know kids or a family doing good in their own way? Please tell me! I’d love to write about them, too.