Thank you Ashley, mom to Julia and Paul, for giving back to the community and blogging the experience. Your spirit will undoubtedly inspire the community.
Individually and as a couple, my husband John and I have had a long history of volunteering for causes we care about and it’s a big part of our identities. However, since becoming parents, our volunteerism has dwindled.
We started off so well! We hosted a get-out-the-vote calling party for Barack Obama volunteers during the California primaries while our son Paul, just two months, was snoozing away in a swing in the corner. All three of us did neighborhood canvassing for Obama later that year in Nevada. Paul still loved his stroller as a 9 month old (hard to imagine now!) and his chubby body and blue eyes added a lot to our collective appeal to potential Obama voters. But when Paul became mobile and we added Julia to our family in 2010, the barriers to volunteering seemed insurmountable.
However, I’m proud to share that we’re back in the volunteering game! This last weekend, our family volunteered for about two hours at the SF-Marin Food bank (http://www.sfmfoodbank.org/).
We discovered the opportunity somewhat by chance after a friend of ours started working there recently and mentioned to us that the food bank will accept volunteers as young as 4 years old. Most of the other volunteer opportunities we had explored, had much higher age limits and wouldn’t accommodate us as a whole family.
The kids were apprehensive as they had no idea what we’d be doing and it didn’t initially sound “fun”. But they really did understand why giving families food is important. And they had contributed to food drives in grocery store bins so we had talked about the role food banks play in helping families in need.
family volunteering_5-15We had such a wonderful time together. The kids dived into the work with purpose and gusto. As an added bonus, the food bank jobs were really extensions of Nia House work. Our first task was to separate oranges that were rotten from those that those that were safe to eat. Most of the oranges were cosmetically challenged but still perfectly fine to eat, which lead to a great discussion about how appearance doesn’t necessary tell us everything about a person. And they couldn’t have been more prepared to sort based on characteristics – thanks Nia House!
In our second task, we counted small bags of chips into groups of 20 for distribution to community centers and senior citizen facilities. Who is better prepared to separate things into groups of 20 than Nia House children?! The kids felt competent and in charge of their work as much as they do at school, which was wonderful.
I give the SF-Marin Food Bank huge credit for designing activities that were suitable and fun for families. A 90 minute plus shift was exactly the right length for our kids and the staff made our contribution feel valuable by adding what the total group of 50+ had accomplished that day. So we left feeling part of a productive, larger community and one we want to support long-term. Paul has recently started receiving an allowance, 1/3 of which is set aside for sharing with others. We planted the seed that he could give part of his share account to a food bank now that he’s seen what they do.
If you are interested in volunteering at the SF-Marin Food Bank, here’s more info:
A few tips:
- Children 8 or older can join in on Saturday projects
- Children between 4-8 can only sign up for Sunday projects
- Sign up early – volunteer shifts on Sundays fill up 3 months in advance!
- The Alameda County Food Bank accepts volunteers 10 years and older
- What other volunteer opportunities are out there for families with preschool and early elementary kids in the Bay Area? Please share – we want to keep up our volunteering and make it an enduring part of our family culture.