When my teenager was a toddler, his dad worked for Meals on Wheels. Occasionally, we'd buckle him into his car seat and bring him along as we delivered food to elderly folks all over town. It was awesome to see the joy on their faces as a curly-headed sprite handed them their food, but more importantly, it made helping others a regular part of his life. Then his sister was born.
With two little ones in tow it became clear that volunteering with kids isn't always easy. Even when there's not a pandemic, it's a challenge to find programs that fit everyone's schedule and it's even more difficult to find ones that allow kids to participate in any meaningful way–if at all. What's more, even ones that seem like a good idea in theory don't work in practice. The sole event I attempted to join as a family of four–our small city's annual community trash pick up–ended when I dove to keep my ever-eager older child from picking up a discarded hypodermic needle. That seemed like enough volunteering for the day. And if I'm being honest, we haven't done much since.
But now, my youngest is 10–old enough to be legitimately helpful. But what excites me more is that she's old enough for these experiences to spark deep and difficult conversations that it's my duty as a parent to have. In the fall, just as I was looking for volunteer opportunities, I came across a solution in the Alltruists box.
Designed by entrepreneur and mother of four Jessica Jackley, Alltruists is a subscription box of at-home, kid-friendly volunteer projects that center around societal and environmental themes such as hunger or saving the bees. Each box is geared toward families with kids between the ages of 5-11 and can be simplified or more detailed depending on who is participating. We opted for the box on homelessness. Our city is small, but every trip downtown raises conversations about why people may struggle to have homes and what we could possibly do to help.
We set time aside one weekend and dove in. Inside the box we found five mini books to guide us through the experience: Learn, Connect, Act, Give, and Do More. The first helped kickstart conversations on what exactly homelessness is, complete with simple FAQs that even some adults could benefit from learning the answers to. ("Why don't homeless people just find a job?" for example.) There's even a glossary of related words to expand their vocabulary and questions that help foster empathy. We talked about everything from how hard even the simplest things must be, like going to the bathroom and taking a shower to why sometimes we give money to strangers and sometimes we don't. I've had snippets of these conversations many times over the years, but never had they been met with such wide-eyed curiosity. (Instead, more of a glazed-over "mom's off on another rant" look.)
Next, we moved on to her favorite part: Arts and Crafts. But with meaning! Of course, this is a kid who will happily spend twelve hours a day gluing recycling to other junk, but the heartfelt projects included in the box would keep the attention of most. She delighted in beading two keychains, one for herself and one that we mailed to New Story (via an included pre-paid envelope), an organization that builds homes for families in need. Knowing her work would hang alongside a key to someone's new home made her so incredibly proud. We also worked together to construct a mini home project–which TBH, looks about as good as our attempts at gingerbread houses, but that's on me.
In the end, I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend afternoon. We've revisited the conversations we had that day so many times. We've looked up local charities to help raise money for and brainstormed ways we could do it. My daughter suggested we sell some of her wares but turns out hot-glue assembled structures of literal garbage aren't exactly money makers. We'll keep working on that part. And maybe scoop up another Alltrusits box in the meantime.