“Do or do not. There is no try. ” -Yoda
There have been many times when I have been presented with an opportunity to serve in my community, but my response was less than acceptable. I would say things like, “Well, I’ll try” or “I’ll be there if I can find a sitter”. I finally realized -partially thanks to Yoda- that I couldn’t use my kids and busy schedule as excuses to ignore the commandment that Christ gave us to serve one another. It is true that we, as mothers, tend to fill our plates too full and we need to know how to say “no” so we don’t spread ourselves too thin. That is why I compiled a list of ways that mothers can start serving with children and still manage to get the dishes washed before bed time.
10 Ways to Make Serving With Children Possible
#1 Make a Donation
Let your kids help you clean out closets and toy boxes. Explain that there are many children in the area who might need a winter coat, a good pair of shoes, or a toy to play with. Make it clear to them that you aren’t just throwing things out, but that the items will be going to other families who need them. Take the kids with you when you go to the drop off so they can become familiar with the organization accepting the donations.
#2 Volunteer at a Food Pantry or Thrift Store
Food pantries and charitable thrift stores are always in need of extra hands. You can volunteer to sort food and clothing, sweep the floors, distribute items, etc. We were signed up to work a 1 hour shift at our former church’s clothing closet about once per month. We just waited at the building for people to show up. When they arrived, we would help them find what they needed. This is something that the whole family can do together.
#3 Visit with People
Many nursing homes encourage kids to come perform “concerts” for the residents. My childhood church had a “Clowns for Christ” program. We dressed as clowns and went to sing to nursing home residents. They loved it! My oldest child has been to the Veteran’s hospital a couple of times with gift baskets and cards as well. Make sure that you contact the staff to schedule a time. Also be sure that you don’t bring anything that could harm the residents (i.e.- taking sugar filled candy to a diabetic).
#4 Support the Military
One of my son’s favorite ways to serve is to send letters and Care Packages to members of our military. The letters thank military members for the sacrifices that they make for our freedom. You can include non-perishable food, personal care items, a Bible, or you can just send a card. This lifts the spirits of the one who is deployed and it connects the child to the reality that there are real people serving for our country.
Serving with children can also teach them entrepreneurial skills in addition to servitude. You could help your children set up a lemonade stand, bake sale, yard sale, or all of the above to raise funds for a local ministry. You might think that these ideas won’t bring much cash in, but you would be surprised at the number of donations that people will give.
#6 Serve Food at a Soup Kitchen or Benefit Dinner
Our community has a program called ‘Soulfood Cafe’. Anyone who needs a hot meal can come into the church during set hours to eat and take home leftovers. We participated in this program last year. While I was helping to serve desserts and drinks, my son was acting as a door greeter welcoming people as they entered. This is a great way to reach out to people and form relationships while taking care of physical needs.
#7 Take Care of the Homebound
When someone in your community is sick, mourning, or caring for a new child you can help them out by taking a meal or a gift basket. This makes their time of transition a little easier. Depending on the condition of the person- don’t go visit someone who is very contagious or has a seriously compromised immune system- you can take your children with you so they learn the importance of fellowship, community, and the love of Christ first-hand.
#8 Grow and Glean Produce
This one is definitely one of my favorites! If you have space for a small garden you could grow food to give away. If you aren’t able to grow the food yourself, then you could volunteer at a community garden. You could also become involved with an organization like Healing Hands International, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, or Society of St. Andrew.
After produce is grown, farmers and gardeners usually have some leftovers in their fields. You can go on your own or volunteer with a program like Society of St. Andrew to glean this produce out of the fields or from farmers’ markets. When you have collected the produce you just weigh it and deliver it to a food pantry, church, or directly into the hands of local families.
#9 Operation Christmas Child
OCC is an excellent program to help you get started serving with children. Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse program, collects shoe boxes full of toys and personal care items for children in third world countries who don’t have basic hygiene items and don’t have the opportunity to receive gifts. My kids and I hit up Dollar Tree and Walmart each year to fill these boxes with hair supplies, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, crayons & coloring books, toys, and more. Samaritan’s purse also makes sure that each box contains a Bible printed in the language of the child who will be receiving it.
Some businesses will even allow you to set up a donation box at the store so shoppers can donate small items. Just check with management before doing this.
This option is a debated one. Some people love this program because they are able to send gifts to kids in other countries who don’t typically receive gifts. Other people think that it is wasteful because the items typically sent in these boxes are sometimes useless in the countries they are received in. I personally like the program as long as I am intentional about that goes into the box. Just be sure to research a little before you start this one so you can be sure to pack appropriate items.
Praying for others is the most simple way for parents to start serving with children, but it also seems to be the most overlooked. We feel as if we need something tangible to really be helping, but prayers and faith have proven to be more beneficial than food and water in many cases.
The words in James 5:13-16 make it very clear that praying for others is vital:
” Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
Hopefully these ideas will give you the boost that you need to get out there and serve with your children. Please do remember that being a mother is your greatest ministry. It doesn’t do much good for you to spend all of your time serving others if that causes you to neglect the little disciples living in your home. Take this list and use it to help train those littles while you serve. Two birds, right?