For the past couple of years I have listened intently as parents around me shared their desire to serve their community, and to help in a way that included their own children and taught them the importance of service.
“It’s hard with young children,” one remarked. “How do you explain what it means to be hungry, really hungry and not just hungry because it’s been an hour since your last snack, you know?”
In my own home I use a language of denial all the time with my kids, as in, no, you don’t really need that. That’s junk food. That toy can go on your Christmas list. I have to think about what our whole family needs, not only the particular desire of one child. If we run out of something I will put it on the shopping list and you might have to wait a week to have that food again.
So how do you explain that others are in need?
At our house we talk about money and how we always have enough to buy food and clothing and the things we need to live. We even have money leftover for special treats and vacations. We explain that others sometimes run out of money before the next paycheck comes, or maybe they lost jobs and don’t have a paycheck.
The bottom line: We have more than we need. So we will help.
But where do you start? How can we help?
Back in high school I was required to fulfill a community service requirement as part of the National Honor Society. And back then, I had no idea how to serve my community. As I listened to a fellow classmate share ideas for ways to serve, I found myself embarrassed by the fact that I didn’t know there were those in need right in my community. I thought the needy lived in foreign countries and you sent checks to provide food, clothing and medicine.
And today in my adult life, even just last month a woman from a Boston suburb shared with me that she wondered how to serve her community when everyone basically has enough to eat, has pretty much the same material possessions.
I felt myself bursting to share about the inequities in our communities and the amazing assistance programs that seek to fill the gaps.
The Cambridge Public Schools, for example, try to balance classrooms with kids who qualify for free or reduced price lunch and those who do not. Officials have told us that a significant portion of the student population relies on school breakfasts and lunches for the majority of their daily calories. Beyond school meals, the schools have also contracted with Food For Free which provides supplemental food for weekend consumption to kids in need through their Weekend Backpack Program. Food For Free also serves by delivering produce, meat and groceries to several of the public schools once a month for free distribution to the school community at their monthly markets. In 2017 this organization distributed 2 million pounds of food to over 100 organizations in the Boston area, helping to feed 30,000 people.
There is clearly a need for service to our community and actually, as a Cambridge parent, the frequent requests for help can get a little overwhelming!
So where to begin?
When I speak with other concerned parents, they want to get involved but are afraid -- as in any area of their lives -- of over-committing themselves. Also, they want to choose a focus with the biggest impact.
What do you focus on? May I suggest three simple things that have connected me to the community and added purpose to my life:
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.