It’s made very clear in the Bible how important it is to serve others, and to make sure you’re taking care of the “least of these,” helping out the entire church body, and serving anyone who needs it. The Bible is all about reaching out there and taking care of others.
But no matter what your stance is, or if you are even a Christian, serving others is a huge part of life. When you reach out and make that tangible connection with someone else, everyone is made better in the process.
Studies show that the things you’re taught before the age of seven are the things that you will live for the rest of your life. While there are obviously some exceptions to this, it’s largely true. That’s why teaching kids how to serve in their formative years is SO important on how they’ll serve others for the rest of their lives.
But it isn’t always easy to find tasks that are age appropriate for kids, ways for them to serve others when they’re 4, 5, 6 years old. I’ve compiled a list of tasks that children of various ages, from preschool through the teen years, can do. Obviously, some will require more help and parental supervision than others, and some are better suited to older age groups, but all of these are tasks that your kids can get involved in to serve others.
Homeless care bags are a great way to serve others. You can easily make a bunch, then store them in your car for whenever they’re needed. Start with a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, then tuck in toiletries, like deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, comb, washcloth, even some body spray. Continue with some small food items, like a water bottle, soft granola bars, a pop-tab can of ravioli or another similar food that doesn’t require heating and can be opened without a can opener. If you’re able to, you could even tuck in a small gift card for a fast food restaurant, allowing them to go inside, warm up (or cool down, depending on the season) and have a meal on your dime. If you include non-perishables, you can keep a box of care bags in your car and hand them out whenever you see someone in need. In the winter, consider adding in a pair of warm gloves or socks.
Kids can easily help with these homeless care bags by shopping for the items with you, by assembling the bags with you, and by delivering them to those in need. You’ll find that, once you have the bags made, kids will start noticing people in need more often, and helping to serve more. By being more aware of the need, it’ll open doors for conversations about why it’s important to help others.
Volunteer at your local food pantry. Most communities have a food pantry, which collects food, sorts it, and distributes it. Some food pantries may also have extra goals, like creating lunches for students who get free lunches through school to ensure they have meals during the summer, when many kids go hungry without that school lunch. However, food pantries need a LOT of work to keep them running smoothly! They need donations, and often can give you a list of specific items they’re running low on if you give them a call. They also may need people to help sort, organize, unpack, or repack items for distribution. Of course, you’ll want to call your local food bank first to see what their biggest needs are, and also to confirm that your child can help you serve. Most kids are able to sort items at a fairly young age, but even if you can’t help by serving at the food pantry, you can make a special grocery trip and allow the children to help you locate the most-needed items!
Donate Outgrown Clothing. This one is a great one for opening the door of conversation to show how blessed we truly are. As kids outgrow clothing, they can help go through the closet, find items they no longer wear or have outgrown, and can box them up. Then, you can help them sort the clothing and donate it to a local clothing closet or clothing drive. By doing this, you’re helping kids see that they have items that some kids simply don’t have. A lot of kids don’t have clothing that they need, let alone cute clothing they like, and by donating outgrown clothing, kids can serve other kids and learn how not everyone has access to some of the resources you might have. I’ve found that, even when money was limited and I had very little, this was one area where I could still afford to donate and serve others.
Adopt a Neighbor. You know that neighbor who lives near you, the one who is elderly and doesn’t have family nearby? What about the single mom with several kids who works full time? Maybe the family who just had a major medical event happen and it’s causing them to fall behind a little bit? How about adopting that family or neighbor, taking them under your wing, and finding ways to serve them? Perhaps one week it is getting the whole family together to shovel their snowy driveway. Maybe it means dropping by with a meal, or asking if there are any groceries you can pick up for them when you do your shopping. Your children could deliver a card telling them to get well soon or let them know that you’re thinking of them and praying for them. With permission from the neighbor, an older child could mow their lawn for free. Sometimes, adopting a neighbor can be a short-term thing– helping a family out through a rough patch in life. Sometimes, it can be a long-term commitment to help out a neighbor who needs an extra hand with a little help around the house. Consider an elderly neighbor who lives alone, and think about asking if they need any little tasks done, like changing lightbulbs or testing smoke detectors. Let older kids offer to clean out gutters, or wash windows. By chipping in and doing these little tasks, you’re helping out someone who might not be able to do it themselves, and also forming a lasting bond with someone you live near.
Serve at a nursing home. A nursing home can be a great place to serve, especially as a family! Often, residents have no family or limited family, and could use some interaction from kids. Ask your local nursing home if you can stop by and play games or cards, adopt a resident to spend regular time with, or have your children read to them. It’s a great opportunity to form a lasting connection, again, and also helps you bring some light and joy to someone’s life. Make sure you get permission before bringing items, like flowers or baked goods, to ensure there are no health risks associated with it, but if you get permission, a bouquet of flowers could brighten up someone’s windowsill, and a hand-drawn picture makes all the difference!
Send Cards to Children’s Hospital Patients. Most children’s hospitals have patients who are there for long-term care. It’s a sad reality that there are some kids who are spending weeks, months, or even years within the walls of a hospital, and that can get very monotonous! To help make kids feel a little less sad about missing out on holidays spent at home with family or friends, a lot of children’s hospitals have organizations that are set up to collect cards for the patients. Most will request a card that has a holiday theme and will ask you NOT to send Get Well Soon cards. Around Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays, or even just for no occasion at all, these organizations deliver handmade greetings to children in the hospital. It’s great to have your child make a greeting that will be delivered to another child!
Make a Spaghetti Dinner for the homeless. Especially when it’s cold, people who don’t have a place to call home find hot meals to be few and far between. A great way to remedy that is to deliver a hot meal of your own that your family worked together to prepare. Spaghetti is great for a couple of reasons. First, most homeless don’t have access to dental care, so some will have trouble with foods that aren’t on the softer side. Second, Spaghetti is something that every age can help prepare. Start by taking a trip to the store and buying 2-3 large packages of spaghetti, 2-3 cans or jars of sauce, some bags of parmesan cheese, and some garlic bread. Also pick up 20-30 takeout boxes and forks while you’re at the store. Don’t forget to buy bottled water, as well. Spend time as a family preparing the spaghetti, then boxing it up in the takeout boxes. Put those in bags, and load up the car with bottled water, parmesan cheese, and the spaghetti and bread. Drive around an area with a larger homeless population and deliver fresh, warm spaghetti, then ask them if they’d like some fresh cheese. After delivering, make sure to sit down and talk to someone one-on-one and ask them their story, or just talk to them about life in general.
Kids of all ages can learn to serve, but when they not only watch you serve, but help you serve, with intention, they’ll learn a lasting history of serving others and begin to really understand what the Bible means when it says to be the hands and feet of Jesus.