Thursday, July 24, 2008

Helping Our Community...Whether it costs me my sanity or not

Back when I had mostly really young children, I looked forward to the day when we could do some community service or church service activities to bless others with the people-power that a family of eight can provide. Now that my baby is a strapping five year old, I think we've arrived.

The kids have helped take down chairs at church for well over a year by now, and I've been keeping my eyes open for other opportunities.

A few months ago when my ten year old son was playing baseball we noticed that the ball park was really littered up (mainly because garbage can bags were not getting changed often enough, so there was just a whole bunch of garbage all over the ground by the cans). I decided to be proactive. The next time we went to the ball park we can armed with grocery sacks and rubber gloves. I explained to the kids that I thought it would be cool if we could help out our community by picking up garbage for a little while as we watched their brother's game. My little boys were totally pumped up, like picking up garbage was the highlight of their life! (Simple pleasures are the best, they say!)

When we got to the ball field, the garbage cans had fresh bags and all the garbage around them had been picked up. Oh no! The kids were so disappointed. (seriously!) Until I pointed out that there was plenty of litter all along the fence lines, etc. So they were back in business, with my 8 year old saying to his brothers, "C'mon! Let's go help our community!!"

They were so cute.

Now that baseball season is done (thank you, Jesus) we've got a lot of time on our hands. And since we live pretty far away from all the homeschool classes, we don't have a single thing on our regular weekly schedules. And the local Emergency Food Pantry got on my radar.

I asked some questions, and found out that they had an urgent need for someone to work at the food pantry on Wednesdays for one hour.

So guess who volunteered?

Yep.

The first week I went alone so that I could get a feel for the "lay of the land" and to figure out how I could get the kids involved there. After that week I started taking the kids with me.

At the food pantry, we do several things. First of all, here are the shelves that hold food:

There is actually a bigger area with more food, but for whatever reason, the way they do it is to stock these smaller shelves with all of the items that go into the back Emergency Food boxes.

There is a list that tells us how many cans of this and boxes of that should do into each box. The kids have really loved making a bucket brigade to pass along the box items from the shelves into the boxes.

Here's one of the boxes we put together: (my daughter, doing her Vanna imitation)

After the boxes are ready, they sit and wait for people to come and get 'em. Some weeks we've had just one person come in. Some days (like yesterday) we were swamped and were super busy the whole time. (In addition to stocking the shelves and making up the boxes, when people come in I have them do some paperwork and find out what their needs are. Often we help people get the food to their cars as well.)

My kids love this rolling cart that is often used so that people can roll their food out to their cars, rather than carry it. In addition to the box of stuff we put together, there are also government commodities that some people get. It can be a pretty big amount of stuff, and would be too heavy for most people to carry to their cars.

Unfortunately, the combination of rolling carts and little boys can be a stressful one. I am constantly having to get my boys to stop pushing the cart around the small food pantry area. There are also rolling dollies that provide a constant temptation to my little hooligans.

In the weeks that we have been going to the food pantry I have tried to improve my preparation level each time. Bring water. Bring a snack. (the first week the kids started telling me how starved they were as soon as they started seeing all the food boxes we were putting together for others....nice and embarrassing!) Bring an activity for down times. (If it's a slow day for people coming in, then there isn't much to do, which can be pretty boring.)

Yesterday I brought a fresh loaf of applesauce bread, coloring books, crayons, and a Mad Libs book. Foolishly I forgot the water. And a cattle prod.

Although there was so much work to do, (and their favorite kind--putting together the boxes) two of my younger boys were really boogers. They fought over the coloring books. They complained because the bread wasn't cool enough to eat. They did not want to work. At one point I turned around to find the 5, 7, and 8 year olds missing. (They had taken off to find the bathroom without telling me. I never let them go off on their own like that! Talk about stress...)

In short, it was very. frustrating. In fact, I had a momentary thought that I am just not going to do this. But of course, that was before I remembered that there is absolutely no reasonable excuse why my children cannot be helpful and well behaved for one hour a week of work at the food pantry. Heck--they do work at home, and they know how to behave at home. I have no idea what came over them yesterday to be so wretched.

So between now and next Wednesday I need to up my game. Will there be an incentive reward of some type for children that do their job at the food pantry cheerfully? Will they get some sort of punishment if they do not? I am flirting with the idea of letting them miss a meal or two and then see if they have a little more compassion for hungry people that need help. I probably won't do that, but when I was walking out of there yesterday it was sounding quite tempting to me.

I assured the children that I am NOT giving up on this. We have the ability to be a blessing to others, and an opportunity to learn to serve. Somehow, we're going to figure this thing out. What I'm telling myself is that if I stick with it, it will get easier, and the lessons and habits learned will be well worth the struggles.

That's true, right?

Right?!

2 comments:

Shauna said...

I have a blog I've been neglecting where I collect ideas for ways that families can serve in their community together: The Family Quilt. It can be hard to find opportunities that are appropriate for all age levels; a lot of organizations and nonprofits I've found have age limits for volunteers for safety or other reasons. But even when you have older kids it can take some creativity to make it work and find a way for all the kids to get involved in the project. I think this is a good example of what that looks like in practice. Yes, it can be rather messy and chaotic and even frustrating to find a way for kids to develop compassion and serve others, but it's such a valuable lesson!

Shauna said...

I've been telling my husband I need new glasses, and this proves it! I edited my post! :)