On Concrete Giving

When it comes to money, we do a lot of little things that are actually a detriment to teaching our children about spending, saving, and giving.  We go to the store and swipe a little plastic card.  Maybe it’s a debit card, and there was cash to back it up, but maybe it’s a credit card, and we took on some debt.  The children don’t automatically know that, and you might not think to tell them.  When we give at church, we write a check and tuck it into an envelope.  We pay bills online.  We move money in and out of savings accounts with cell phone apps.  What is that they are seeing and understanding?  It’s really easy to write those checks and swipe those cards, but taking a little time now and again to make it concrete makes a big impression on little hearts.

A couple of Lents ago, we were talking about the Corporal Works of Mercy.  We talked about how, even though it seems like money is tight for us sometimes, we have an ample supply of clothes suitable to the season, we have a fairly snug roof over our heads, and we never wonder where our next meal is coming from.  There are people with more resources than we have, but we are much better off than most of the people in the world.  And we’re better off than quite a lot of our near neighbors.  Practicing the Corporal Works of Mercy is actually fairly easy.  Do you see someone in need?  Fill it as best you can.

In our family, we concern ourselves with food.  It seems to me to be a terrible crime that anyone in our wealthy nation should go to bed hungry.  In our small community, there are over a hundred children who do not get any food outside of school.  The Backpacks for Hunger program provides ready-to-eat foods that teachers can quietly slip into a child’s backpack so that they will have something to eat over the weekend.  It’s not a lot, but it’s something.  There is a local organization that makes sure that this program is fully funded for all the students in our county.

And then there is our food pantry.  It is a joint ministry project of all the local churches, and it is surprisingly underfunded.  Monthly donations of specific items are requested of every congregation, but very little comes in.  The shelves are usually bare.  I bet it’s the same wherever you live.

So two Lents ago, we took up a family collection.  Throughout Lent, all of us added to a jar, and just before Easter, we counted it up, took it to the grocery store, and purchased nutritious food for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to eat this week.  It was extremely meaningful to the children, I know, because Penelope has kept up the collection.  Every few weeks, she goes around to all her siblings and solicits donations to the poor box.  They tell me her speech is quite moving and impossible to resist without feeling like a worm.  🙂  And when she has enough money to make it worth our while, we go to the store and fill up a cart.

In our community, the food pantry is mostly used by elderly people, though a few families come through, too.  The director asked for foods with a protein source, preferable heat-and-eat.  Vegetables are cheap and oft donated; protein is expensive.  It might be different where you live, so maybe ask first, but it’s probably not.  We buy soups and stews, pasta and meat sauce, peanut butter and jelly, pancake mix and syrup, oatmeal, tuna and tuna helper, mayo, coffee, and toiletries, chili and speghetti-o’s, coffee, cereal, and also some veggies and baked beans.  (Penelope insisted.)

This is an easy project to do together as a family.  If you give your kids an allowance (which I very much recommend), they can contribute, too.  Let them make some of the decisions about the food to buy, and then – the fun part – they get to deliver it!  I promise it’ll be worth more in the long run than any check you might write.

How do you make giving real for your children?


2 Comment

  1. An excellent post with a good question at the end!
    We do discuss our church envelope offerings with our kids, and also other places where we donate money, time, and goods. They chip in as they want to.

    1. Debt is such a common feature of our cultural landscape that I spend a fair amount of my parenting energy covering financial management. In my Multi-Generational Family Improvement Project, I hope that they’ll not only stay out of debt, but be investors, too, which will be a step ahead of us. Do you talk about money with your kids? Most people don’t. For some reason, we don’t want our kids to know where we stand financially, and I think that makes it so much harder to teach them well.

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