EDITORIAL: Use the season to teach Malheur County kids about charity

The holiday season is the giving season, and charity hits its peak. Adults across Malheur County can give a special gift this season – educating children how to be charitable. This is a gift that would last for years for children and for the community.

A fact of local life is that people tend to reach for their wallets especially this time of year. Generous souls give money to their special causes or to help someone in need. Across Malheur County, we have more than 150 charities that can use the help and thousands of people in need. Writing a check or dropping $20 or $50 or $100 bill in a donation jar is, of course, helpful.

But parents, grandparents and other adults should stop before writing that check and consider the kids in their lives. Why not get them involved?

Depending on their age, why not have the children help pick the charity or two to help? This is a good time to make a list of five possible recipients. Talk with kids about the needs at each one. Help them understand the need, that it is people who are being helped, not just institutions and organizations. Let the kids help pick one from the list that they particularly want to support. Ask them why. The answers, likely, will amaze and hearten you.

If giving money seems too crass, the community has lots of ways to donate gifts. Is there a giving tree you can introduce them to? Can they take a gift to a holiday event knowing some lucky child will go home happier? If so, let the child pick the gift and listen to them describe why they picked it and what joy they hope it will bring to some other child.

Supporting food banks in a similar way is another great way to marry service with education. Food banks in the area always can use more donations. And local organizations otherwise hold food drives as well. Take the kids shopping, give them a budget, and let them pick the canned foods to be donated. Have them imagine what a hungry family might want in their pantry. And let them be the ones to drop those cans in a collection box.

And if money and gifts aren’t possible, children do have one other item they can donate – time. You know their interests and abilities. Give them a list of five local places that could use volunteer help. Explain what the charity does and how a child might help, depending on age. When the child picks where they want to help, hand them markers and a paper and have them make a gift certificate, naming the charity they want to help and making the certificate redeemable for, say, eight hours of volunteer time in 2019.

The key is linking an act of kindness to a result. Kids need to know that dropping a can of green beans into a food bin isn’t just a momentary act. They need to imagine seeing a hungry child sit down for dinner, ready to eat the beans from that very can.

This approach, certainly, takes much more effort than writing a year-end donation check to your favorite organization. Yet as kids learn the duty and the need for charity, you set them up for a life of caring about others in the community. You set them up to act on knowing of that need. And you deepen the culture in Malheur County for helping others, and with luck, not only while the holiday lights brighten the homes of the more fortunate among us.

– LZ