by Katie Julius

When a child is dedicated in our church, the pastor will select a verse for the child and family as part of the dedication ceremony. When our daughter was dedicated, the verse he picked for us was Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Service to the Lord is a daily discipline and it’s important we teach our kids to identify ways they can serve Him and others every day. Whether it’s helping a sister with her chores, reading a brother a story, or holding the door open for someone at the store, developing a servant’s heart is an essential part of our family’s “curriculum.”

We also make an effort to find opportunities where our entire family can participate in organized projects that are of benefit to people and organizations within our community.

With the holidays just around the corner, the “season of giving” is a great time to get your family involved in serving your community. We’ve compiled a list of ideas that families can do together. Our prayer is that you will find a way to serve as a family this season and that it will develop into an attitude of service throughout the year.

Christmastime provides a number of opportunities for you to partner with organizations to provide gifts for children who may not otherwise receive any. One our family has done every year since my daughter was very small is filling a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, a project affiliated with Samaritan’s Purse. We purchase a shoebox-sized plastic storage bin and fill it with small toys, activities, school and hygiene items that my daughter helps select at the store. While she is picking things she would like to put in her box, I take advantage of the opportunity to tell her that these items are not for her, but for a child in another country who is not receiving anything else for Christmas. Over the years she has begun to develop an understanding of how blessed we are and how God calls us to help those less fortunate than us.

Two additional projects that benefit children in the U.S. are Project Angel Tree (gifts for children whose parents are incarcerated) and Toys for Tots. You can extend this service project year-round by encouraging your children to do small jobs to earn the money they will use to purchase these items.

One activity we always participate in at Christmas time is caroling at a nearby retirement home. We have gone with our local moms group and our American Heritage Girls troop. We make Christmas cards in advance to hand out to the residents and bring jingle bells for the youngest to ring as we walk the halls singing Christmas songs. This activity developed into a monthly visit with the memory care patients at our local retirement home. Once a month we spend about an hour participating in themed activities and crafts with them. We have begun to develop deeper relationships with some of the residents through our conversations and the residents love seeing the kids each month. Reach out to your local retirement community to find out how you can show love to these, often lonely, residents.

Many homeless and women’s/children’s crisis shelters are always in need of items. For example, food for a food bank at a homeless shelter and diapers and feminine products for a crisis shelter. Check with your local shelter to find out their most needed items. One way little ones can be involved is by hosting a donation drive in your neighborhood. Your family can create a flyer to pass out to your neighbors with a list of the items you are collecting and the date you will be by to pick up the items. On that date, grab your wagon and walk with your family around your neighborhood collecting the items and then make a trip to drop them off.

Another way to directly help the growing homeless population is by creating “blessing bags.” These bags can contain items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand wipes or hand sanitizer, deodorant, chapstick, lotion, sunscreen, gloves, socks, “beanie,” and small non-perishable snacks like peanut butter crackers, snack cups (be sure to include a spoon or fork), beef jerky, and small bottles of water. You could also include a gift card to a nearby fast food restaurant. Place all of these items in a large zip-top bag and keep them in your car to hand out to those homeless you see on the street corner and outside the store.

Cleaning up your local beach, park, or trail is a way to teach kids about the importance of caring for God’s creation. Local organizations often host monthly or quarterly clean up days you can participate in where they provide trash bags and gloves, but you can also go on your own or with other families. Be sure you have gloves for everyone picking up trash. If you want to make this a regular activity, it would be a worthy investment to get a “grabber” so you don’t have to worry as much about what your kids are picking up.

Over 60 cities across California participate in at least annual city service days through Love Our Cities. If your city is not one of them, chances are there is one close by. These events usually offer a variety of projects within the city – anything from cleaning up a local park to painting fences to making cards for city employees. The website allows you to select your project in advance and even tells you the ages for which the project is appropriate. We recently helped paint our local soccer region’s snack shack as part of the city’s “Love Our Cities” event.

My daughter loves to draw and paint pictures and then write notes on the back for families and friends. We have taken this interest and found a couple ways she can serve others beyond those she knows. Our local children’s hospitals accept cards/notes on a regular basis so we have begun sending these to them. For the past year, we also have been participating in a program called The Good King. People who are going through a difficult time, usually health related, can be nominated and then volunteers color a design and write a note of encouragement, take a photo of their finished work (with or without their face in the photo) and send it back to be printed in a photo book that is then delivered to the nominee.

We haven’t signed up for this one yet since my daughter is not quite reading on her own, but I have a friend who has taken her emergent reader daughter to the animal rescue shelter to read to the animals. Several shelters near us regularly host weekend events where kids come in to read to the dogs and cats at the facility, but your shelter may be open to having your family come in during the week. Not only do the animals benefit from the extra attention, but it gives the kids great practice reading out loud without the pressure of an audience.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but I hope it encourages to you to seek out ways your family can serve in your community and create a servant’s heart in your children, following Christ’s example. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to his give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45