Gratitude and Giving Back

Photo by Caleb Wood on

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.

-A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

My son is in first grade this year, and just last week I realized how much he’s into Santa Claus right now. This is not unexpected: I have always been a Christmas aficionado and used to love reminding people of such classics as Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Even so, in recent years I’ve struggled to embrace the holiday spirit fully: I still don’t have good traditions with my son such as baking holiday cookies, or Christmas movies we have to watch (correction: he will watch various versions of The Grinch on repeat for the next 4 months, but I’m afraid that doesn’t really count). There are moments each holiday season when the thought of getting the tree out, putting it up, and then having to put it away again just feels exhausting. (And that doesn’t include the gift giving part of the season, which is a whole ‘nother element.)

But the holidays have always been important to me, and I want him to love them as much as I do. The tricky part is helping him to understand that we can love the holidays not just because ooh, PRESENTS! but also because it’s a time of year to give to others.

I feel very fortunate to have a child who is kind and caring. Still, that doesn’t mean the thought of giving – or giving back in some way – comes naturally. As he gets older, I find myself thinking more and more about how we can foster that idea. How do you help your child learn to give and give back?

This year and last year, his involvement in Cub Scouts gave us some of the first opportunities for helping him learn to give his time and himself. In St. Louis, Scouting for Food is a major annual event that involves as many Cub and Boy Scouts as possible. It dates back to the 1980s, and the gist is this: early in November, Cub and Boy Scouts distribute plastic grocery bags, hanging them on people’s front doors. The bags describe the event and food needs – canned goods, non-perishable items, etc. A week later, the Scouts return to pick up food items.

This may be one of my favorite Scouting events (along with Clean Stream in the spring): for two years now, I’ve taken my wee child out on chilly Saturday mornings, helped him loop bags on people’s doors, then helped him haul food back to a vehicle.

So much food! This kiddo got his workout in.

It’s a great, tangible way to teach kids about giving back, and why food matters – why some people don’t have enough food, and why we help by giving food.

At the school where I work, we also just completed the 16th annual “Turkey Train,” which is one of the most interesting service projects I know of. Don’t ask me how it started, but here’s the idea:

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, every high school student brings in a 10-12 pound (frozen) Turkey and leaves it on a tarp in a central spot on campus. Meanwhile, the students in our lower and middle schools contribute by donating canned goods in the weeks prior. Then, on the last Monday before Thanksgiving, the high school students form a human chain across campus and pass the turkeys down the line one at a time. It looks something like this:

Last year, the event provided more than 7,000 meals to families in the metropolitan area, which is mind-boggling.

Being involved in events like these makes me think a lot more about how our family gives back to the community and how we get involved. We don’t do enough, if I’m honest, and that’s something that we’ll need to reevaluate each year as the kiddo gets older.

We’re exactly one month from Christmas, and between teaching and extracurricular activities, I can already feel myself getting stressed about the busy-ness coming in the weeks ahead. This week, though, I’m grateful for these small opportunities to be part of our communities and to give back to others. As I move into the final month of the year, my hope is to continue working on that and find ways to continue to give back more regularly in the year ahead.

What are you grateful for this week? How do you help your family give back to your communities?

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