I changed my children's lives the day I drove them to a homeless shelter and let them donate their old coats. We thought we were poor. We had been on the sub for Santa list that Christmas. It was the worst winter weather on record.
When we arrived in the deep snow at the shelter they met two children, wrapped in newspaper, sitting in a shopping cart, going into the night to sleep under the freeway because the shelter was full. My kids gave them their old leather bomber jackets, hats and gloves.
The experience altered the way we all saw ourselves and the world. We weren't poor and we had something to give, even when we were unemployed. We have been a family dedicated to giving to others whenever possible, ever since.
Here is what we have learned over the last 20 years of service:
Donating money doesn't always mean your money
The money you compile to donate for important reasons like helping victims of natural disasters, abuse or serious illness, doesn't have to be your own personal money. You can put in the effort to raise money and participate in fundraisers for important events. Fundraising can be as simple as a yard sale or flea market and become as complicated as gathering large ticket items and having an auction.
Our family participated in a neighborhood ice cream social for a family battling cancer. They charged per family or individual and had a donation jar for extra donations. There were also baked goods for sale. All the ice cream and baked goods were donated by companies or individuals. So all of the proceeds went back to the family.
Donating your time doesn't always mean leaving home or going somewhere. There are many services you can provide right at your own kitchen table. You can train to answer crisis calls for local crisis lines routed to your cell phone. You can stuff envelopes for fund raisers. If you have book keeping skills, you can volunteer to help with book keeping.
Our family participated in a private non-profit co-operative preschool. Mothers volunteered as board members and treasurers. Parents volunteered in the classroom daily as teaching assistants and snack providers. Parents even did laundry or other off-site chores to assist. One volunteer made phone call reminders for all parent teacher meetings.
Volunteer for specific events
In our small community, a group of potters at Clatsop Community College spend all year creating beautiful soup bowls. A few years ago we spent a magical night loading firewood into the unique dragon kiln hidden in the Oregon mountains while they fired the bowls using ancient methods. Then we donated a crock pot of soup and a night of labor to raise several thousand dollars for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. People purchased the bowls and chose from 20 different home made soups and breads for dinner.
If you are house bound or home with small children you can donate homemade or collected items for silent auctions. If you are an artist you can donate art. Many events, like silent auctions are dependent on donated homemade crafts or collected items.
Serve on a committee or board
Most private non profit organizations are run by a board of directors. Donate your time to attend regular board meetings and help make important decisions about how funds are spent, personnel and anything else assigned to the duties of the board.
Join a committee dedicated to a specific event like our local Festival of Trees held each Christmas on the coast. Committee members have a wide variety of volunteer opportunities, including assisting the organizers with planning the event, ticket taking or even collecting raffle items.
Donate gently used goods or food
Donate clothes to thrift stores belonging to organizations like the Salvation Army. Donate left over food from church or school events to the local food bank. Our family grows a garden every year and have a lot of excess food we cannot eat. We try and donate the excess to a local food bank or shelter. This is very exciting for the children as they get to help plant and cultivate food they know will be used to help others.
Always remember when you donate gently used goods or clothes that, "There, but for the grace of God go I." Imagine yourself in a homeless shelter. Someone brings one of your children a bag of clothes. You are so happy because they have outgrown most of what they have. You thank the people who donate. Your young son excitedly rips open the bag and finds it filed with dirty, ripped and torn clothing and broken toys. Only donate something you would want to receive.
When your family chooses to give to others, you realize how rich you really are. The heavens will open and the angels will assist you when you try to help others. One last note: It's more fun when giving is a secret. Start small, plan a donation or service as a family and carry it out without telling anyone outside your home. The excitement will be as much fun as opening packages on Christmas and the joy you get from giving will be as surprising.