8 Appropriate Volunteer Opportunities for Kids After Natural Disasters

After a weather tragedy, kids often want to help however they can, but finding suitable volunteer options for children can be difficult. Check out these kid-friendly options to get your child started.
Mom and son collecting cans

Lucy Schaeffer

After a natural disaster, people volunteer time, money, and products to help those affected get on the road to recovery. And like the many adults who open their hearts and wallets, kids want to help too. Lending a hand not only benefits victims of the disaster, it also helps the child. "Children often feel empowered and have mastery over a situation like a disaster if they are able to become involved in the healing process," says Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of the Center for Well-Being: Psychological Services for Children, Youth, and Families, in Los Angeles. "Volunteering or donating can make the process more concrete -- they can actually see the situation getting better," she explains.

Bank on food.

Your child isn't limited to donating food and water to the food bank. Many collection centers allow kids accompanied by an adult to get in on the behind-the-scenes action by organizing a food drive, sorting donated food, packing food bags, or planting and picking crops on the farm. Be sure to call your local food bank ahead of time, though, because some banks have age restrictions and specific days for kids to help.

Donate clothes.

Many families lose clothing and shoes during a disaster. Your child can donate unwanted or outgrown attire to a charity such as the Salvation Army or Red Cross. Before you drop off a huge pile, check to make sure the organization needs the items. Then let your child decide what he wants to donate. Also, be mindful of the climate in the area hit by the disaster. If sending clothes to Texas, for instance, winter scarves and snow boots probably won't be very useful. After he chooses what to give away, let him help clean the items, and take him with you to drop them off.

Pass the buck.

Sure, clothes, food, and other items are helpful; however, after a disaster, financial donations are the quickest and best way to get help to the people who need it, says Melanie Pipkin, a spokesperson for the American Red Cross. "It takes time and money to sort, process, transport, and then distribute donated items, whereas financial donations can be accessed quickly and put to use right away," she explains. Plus, charities are often able to get more bang for the buck than you would as an individual. Your child can give a little of her allowance or savings; she can do extra chores for you or other family members to earn money; or your family can hold a garage sale and donate the funds. Since kids aren't rolling in dough, they often feel their small amounts of money won't help. Every little bit counts, though. Even a $2 or $10 donation can provide a snack or a hot meal to a family who just lost their home, says Pipkin.

Help Fido (and Kitty).

Injuries, illness, death, and homelessness are common for animals after a weather tragedy. Little animal lovers can help by contacting local animal shelters to see if they need donated pet food, litter, and other supplies for the animals. Kids can also make no-sew pet toys and bedding for shelters that need it. If your family is able, you can also help by adopting a pet.

Put on a chef's hat

Getting busy in the kitchen is another way for kids to make money. Whether it's lemonade, iced tea, snow cones, or cookies, everyone loves a delicious treat, especially if it's for a good cause. Help your child prepare her desserts and then set up a stand in the front yard. She can create a sign to let passersby know she's selling the concoctions to raise money to help disaster victims.

Get creative.

An easy and thoughtful way for kids to bring a smile to someone after a tragedy is to use his artistic abilities, says Carrie Zukoski, spokesperson for United Way of Greater St. Louis. If your child likes to color, draw, or write, he can do some good while honing his talent. Kids can send the cards and artwork to an organization that works with families or children in the disaster-stricken community, Zukoski says. Your child's creations might go to patients in hospitals or be distributed with food and clothing donations.

Kids can also work with the local Red Cross to assemble comfort kits. Kits for adults should include a washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, hairbrush, deodorant, and a razor. Kits for kids should include a child-size toothbrush, toothpaste, washcloth, hairbrush, soap, and a "fun" item such as a coloring book and crayons, a yo-yo, or a toy car.

Trick or treat (with a twist).

Have your child grab a wagon and then walk with her through the community. She can ask neighbors to give canned goods or other nonperishables for donation to the local food bank. Just as she probably gets excited on Halloween when she receives different types of treats, she'll be thrilled when someone gives a canned good that isn't corn or peas! If you don't want your child to walk through the neighborhood or go door to door, help her set up a "food stand" to collect the donations.

Start a penny drive.

This is a good way to show kids that a little can go a long way. Your child can conduct a penny drive in your community, at church or at school. All he needs to do is ask for permission to grab a container and spread the word that he's collecting pennies (and for how long) to help victims of the disaster. Everyone has a penny (or piles of them), so the container will probably fill quickly. Once the drive is over, he can exchange the pennies for dollars at a bank and then give the money to the charity.

Copyright © 2013 Meredith Corporation.

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