My mother keeps a piggy bank of spare change in her house for my niece. It's full of coins collected from the laundry, and when my niece comes to visit, my mother gives her the money to spend however she wants. This Thanksgiving, the piggy bank had almost $20 in it -- a lot of money for a four-year-old! When we asked her how she wanted to spend the cash, my niece gave an answer that surprised us all. "I want to give it to people who don't have any."

We took her to the grocery store, and after unloading several handfuls of money into the Salvation Army collection bucket, she announced that she wanted to spend the rest on food for the hungry. So she took her remaining $11 and bought canned goods to leave in a food bank donation box.

We were, of course, very proud of our little giver, but also curious about why she was so charitable all of a sudden. After all, she's a typical four-year-old. She loves STUFF, and we were surprised that she didn't want to spend any of the money on herself. It turns out, she'd just been to a charity-themed birthday party. Instead of gifts, this friend (more likely this friend's parents) had requested that everyone bring food that they could donate to the food bank. Then all the kids went down to the food bank together, made their donation, and listened to a volunteer there teach them all about what food banks do and why it's important to give.
It sounds like it may be a bit of a downer of a birthday party, and good luck getting your tots to go along with charity instead of presents for their birthdays, but it did make a real impression on my niece. Instead of a birthday party, something like this would make a great field trip for a pre-school or elementary school class, or just an afternoon outing with your own children. Kids may be blunt and insensitive, but they also have an incredible capacity for compassion and generosity. It's never too early to start harvesting a passion for charity, and you might be surprised at just how well the message gets through.

To find a food bank near you, try the locator on this website.

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