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As adults, we know that giving back matters. As parents, we realize that we have a responsibility to teach our kids the same. Why? Because community service not only improves the world we live in, it helps us become better people. According to Roots of Action, giving back teaches us how and where we fit in society, and how we can help solve collective problems. From a young age, it helps us learn how to become engaged citizens in three, unique ways:

  • by teaching personal responsibility through character education,
  • by providing opportunities for leadership within organizations and groups, and
  • by promoting innovative thinking through exposure to both the causes and effects of issues like poverty, racism, economic development, and pollution.

But where do you even start when there are so many issues challenging our communities today, and how do you even begin to navigate such complex issues with young children?

How about hunger? According to Feeding America, more than 40 million people in America struggle with hunger, and households with children are more likely to be food insecure than those without. No matter where you live, this particular need exists. Plus, hunger is one of the easiest problems for children to understand. Your child probably knows the mild discomfort of being hungry between meals. They may even be able to remember a time when they were really hungry, and they’ve probably even complained that they were “starving” at one point or another. Even if he or she cannot fathom the feeling of going days without food, their personal experience may help your child empathize with others who know the pangs of hunger all too well.

So, when it comes to getting involved, helping your child address hunger in your own backyard is an impactful place to begin. Here are some ways your child can help feed the hungry in your very own community.


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Get Gardening

Not that long ago, people planted, tended, and harvested their own food. Meals consisted of fresh fruit, seasonal veggies, and lots of leafy greens. Today, most of us get our groceries from a store. Items are shipped from around the world and lined up on shelves for us to pick and pay for. Stores are open 24 hours a day, and we can order groceries online and have them delivered. Thanks to ready-to-eat meals, restaurants, and fast food, we don’t even have to cook if we don’t want to.

As a result of this newfound convenience, there have been some additional consequences regarding what and how people eat, particularly those who are struggling with hunger. First of all, food isn’t right outside your door. For people without transportation or the extra few dollars for delivery, it can be difficult to get to the store and to transport food back home. That means that when they do go shopping, they have to stock up on foods that won’t spoil. Additionally, fresh produce is relatively expensive compared to boxed or canned goods. That means people who are trying to stretch their food budgets often end up with mostly processed food that is more filling but less nutritious.

That’s why gardening is such a great way for your children to help address hunger where you live. It doesn’t matter if your kids choose to plant their own garden at home and donate the harvest to the local soup kitchen or volunteer in a community garden in a low-income area. Either way, they will be helping provide the type of food that is the most sought after and the most difficult to acquire. As an added bonus, your child will be learning to grow their own food, a skill that can help with their own food security as they get older.  

Join the Club

There are a lot of organizations dedicated specifically to helping feed the hungry and address food insecurity. The groups that feed the hungry usually rely almost entirely on volunteers, and they’re always looking for new ones. Plus, much of the work is kid-friendly. While your child may not be able to cook the food at a soup kitchen, they can clean up, wipe down, pack, unpack, and/or serve it. Just a few hours per week can provide great benefits for your child, the organization, and the people they serve.

If you aren’t aware of any food banks, pantries, or soup kitchens near you, you can start your search for volunteer opportunities online. Head over to FoodPantries.org, and select your state to see locations where you live. You can then contact the facilities directly to inquire about volunteering. Alternatively, there are several volunteer recruitment websites you can check for hunger-specific opportunities:

Many schools and churches also have programs in place to serve people who are hungry, both inside and outside their four walls. Encourage your child to ask their teachers and administrators if they can help pack bags each week for the weekend Backpack Program at their school. Do the same for programs at your place of worship. If these programs aren’t already in place, your child could even help start one.


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Do Your Own Thing

Of course, you shouldn’t limit your children to programs that already exist. Encourage them to innovate and come up with new ideas of their own. Start by having a simple conversation. Ask your child how they might help people who don’t have enough food to eat. Their imaginative responses might surprise you. If your child needs a little encouragement to get started, you can share some of these kid-friendly ideas:

  • Hold a lemonade stand to raise money for a local food bank.
  • Sell something you make, like tie-dyed tees or artwork, and donate the profits to your school’s backpack program.
  • Install a blessing box/micro food pantry, and ask friends and family to help keep it stocked.
  • Organize a car wash and, instead of cash, ask for donations of canned goods.
  • Write letters to local leaders and media outlets to raise awareness about hunger in your own community.

Once you’re done brainstorming, you can help your child pick an idea and pursue it. Just remember not to take over the planning process. Allowing kids to address the issues as they understand them is powerful, if somewhat controversial. Youth-led activism can help the kids involved transform complicated, abstract terms like privilege, social justice, and civic engagement into more relatable concepts like the benefits we’re born with, fairness, and standing up for others.

Sharing is Caring

Ultimately, there are two things that children need to know about hunger. First, homeless people are not the only people who might not have enough to eat every day. Second, when a person is hungry, you can’t always tell by looking at them. Hunger impacts people of every age, race, and background — friends at school, family members, and neighbors included.

One of the easiest ways for your child to help feed the hungry is simply noticing when someone around them is experiencing hunger and then being prepared to share what they have. For example, your child can pack an extra sandwich or snack for school and offer it to the friend who always forgets to bring one. If your family encounters people asking for food while you’re out and about running errands or heading to soccer practice, encourage your kid to put together small “blessing bags” with granola bars, bottles of water, and other necessities to keep in the car and hand out as needed.  

By acknowledging that food insecurity is all around us, learning to identify it, and taking steps to lessen it, children will learn valuable lessons in empathy and compassion. Perhaps more importantly, they will be well on their way to becoming active and engaged members of society, Just remember, children learn by example, and four hands are better than two. Whenever possible, make feeding the hungry a family affair by rolling up your sleeves and joining them!