It’s been said that if you want to cultivate any habit or characteristic in a child, the younger you start, the better. Sure, that might work for encouraging kids to be tidy or perhaps love broccoli, but what about altruism? Like a lot of parents, I want my kids to become compassionate and generous adults, but have often wondered how to kickstart that process. The folks at Second Harvest Food Bank have one idea.
It’s called Family Volunteer Night. One Tuesday each month from 6pm to 8pm, families with children ages 5 to 9 are invited to help out at the food bank.
I signed up my five-tear-old daughter, Elizabeth, and myself online in advance and then drummed up excitement about our upcoming “volunteer date night.” When the big day arrived, we threw on our closed-toe shoes (a requirement at Second Harvest) and headed to the huge new facility on Mercy Drive.
Since opening its doors in 1983, Second Harvest has distributed more than 220 million pounds of food for struggling Central Florida families. That’s done with a huge full-time staff but also with the help of hundreds of volunteers, including the pint-sized ones.
On this night, our gang of enthusiastic helpers was charged with bagging sweet potatoes, which were set before us in giant cardboard boxes. We merrily worked with the sound of animated chatter and parental encouragement as our soundtrack. Once the two dozen volunteers reached the bottom of the sweet potato supply, we moved onto to bagging corn, which was still encased in its husk.
I’d love to tell you that Elizabeth worked like a bee, head down, never complaining, for the full two hours. The truth is that after the initial excitement wore off 45 minutes in, she started to wane. But that didn’t stop me. I kept working, and every so often, she would join me again. She’s only five, after all, and by the time we left it was already past her bedtime.
For me, the message was sent and received: We’re very fortunate and it’s important to give our time and resources to help those who aren’t so fortunate. I imagine that’s a message I’ll have to deliver many more times before it really starts to sink in, but this was a great start. I’m thankful that Second Harvest is giving the younger set a chance to learn the art of giving.
By the way, if your kid is 10 or older, he/she can volunteer any time at Second Harvest as long as they have an adult chaperone with them.
To find out about upcoming volunteer opportunities, including Family Volunteer Night, visit the volunteer calendar on Second Harvest’s website.