This year, we participated in Family Volunteer Day. It’s an international day to celebrate the power of families and their ability to make a true difference in their community. This project was funded by donations from our families and supplemented with a grant from generationOn, a division of Points of Light Foundation. Our monthly taco night was a little bit more special with lots of families and special extras like t-shirts and hats provided by Disney.
Thank you to everyone who participated and we hope that this day encouraged many families to get out there and make their communities a better place with their love and care!
We were presented with a really unique experience in November by Skylight Music Theatre. Their production of Annie was in the final stages of rehearsal and for their very long technical rehearsal they asked us to come in provide their cast with a potluck dinner. Annie? Our kids? YES!
Families from Toddlers and Kids on a Mission gathered together to serve 70 cast members and then were able to tour the theatre, including enjoying listening to one of the songs from Annie. It was a day to remember!
My kids, ages 7 and 4, are familiar with the idea of helping others — we have been the beneficiaries of much help from our community of friends and family in recent years, and we talk often about paying it forward — but this was their first experience serving food to others at a soup kitchen/meal program.
Earlier in the day, we read the book “Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen” by DyAnne DiSalvo, which opened up some discussion about what we would be doing at All Peoples Church that evening, as well as a little bit about the folks that might be coming there for a meal and why they may be choosing to come.
After a quick drive, we had a few extra minutes before we had to be at the church, so we walked over to the beautiful Darius Simmons Memorial Garden across the street. We were greeted by a lovely woman who was tending to vast vegetable gardens, and she offered to have us pick some ripe and ready sweet tomatoes. My 4-year-old daughter was very interested in holding the little bucket while we picked tomatoes and listened to a few stories about the garden and the Kids Working To Succeed program. After a few minutes, we thanked the gardener and headed over to the church.
After donning our hair nets, aprons and gloves, we were happy to incorporate those tomatoes into the taco dinner that would be served. My kids were eager to chop the tomatoes and take on any and all tasks they could find. I was really happy to see them jump right in with helping hands, joining the other families and kids who were there to serve. Kids are “do-ers” with such big hearts!
We served meals to many folks, young and old, ate a bit ourselves, and then helped clean up before heading out. On the ride home I asked my kids if they had any thoughts or observations about the meal program or what they had done. My 4 y.o. said that, as she served peaches with a long-handled slotted spoon, “some people used their manners and others didn’t. One lady said, ‘Gimme some peaches,’ and that hurt my feelings.” I could see that she was a little puzzled by this, given how much we harp on good manners as a family, and I took this as an opportunity to tell her that I’m sorry she felt that her feelings were hurt and that sometimes we don’t know what someone else is going through or what kind of a day they’re having, and sometimes it means they may not be thinking about their manners. Or, maybe that particular lady hadn’t had a good meal in a while and she was just plain hungry. And sometimes it’s hard to be polite when you’re really hungry… my daughter seemed to be thinking about times when she feels hungry and maybe at that moment she felt a twinge of empathy…
My 7-year-old son observed that “It was fun and a lot of work!” And later he commented, “Almost all of the people that were there tonight were black… and I don’t know why.” Using words that I thought he’d understand, I explained that the church is in a predominantly black neighborhood and that many of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are pretty segregated by race. I asked him, “Do we have very many black people in our neighborhood?” and he replied, “No.” I tried as best as I could to explain a little bit about housing discrimination (we have talked many times about Jim Crow laws, oppression of people of color and the Civil Rights Movement, so this was not a totally new topic for my kids). I also told him that while those unfair laws have changed now, some of the same problems still remain. It has been hard to change the patterns that were set back then, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying to change them. It’s important to build relationships and get to know people who don’t look like you or live near you, especially if we’re going to try to solve some of the really tough problems we face in our city.
So, more than just the idea of helping others… more than just that good feeling we get… I am glad that my kids are getting a glimpse into the lives of others who may look different than they do or live in different neighborhoods, and a glimpse into some of the difficulties that others face, and my hope is that through continued conversations that are often a little uncomfortable, my kids will become leaders in building relationships and making positive change.
We volunteer frequently and we want our children to believe that volunteering is a natural part of life just like going to school, visiting Great Grandma Shirley in Texas, and brushing their teeth. Every experience is different for our family and we believe that every time does not have to be a huge light-bulb/a-ha/mountain top moment. So, this is what our family took away from volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul in August:
My husband recalled his college days working in food service in the dorms. He had an especially proud moment when he realized he could use an ice cream scoop to serve rice.
I served dinner to a man handling a solo parenting night with his kids and a few of their friends (6 kids in total). He didn’t sit down for long but all of the children were well-behaved, kind, and he kept a smile on his face the whole time. RESPECT.
Our extroverted son got to talk to lots of people and really enjoyed wolfing down leftover brownies when he thought we weren’t looking.
Our daughter felt very important serving the lettuce. When she got her dinner at the end she really loved it. (Nice job, Jobea!)
The dining room is in need of more coffee mugs for visitors. If you have any mugs that you could spare in your cabinet, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll pick them up.