The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt: Teach Your Children Well

As the air becomes crisp, and we see the vibrant falling leaves around us, often people of faith turn their attention toward giving. Even while we get caught in the frenzy of holiday decorating and menu planning, we think about how to share the abundance of the year and how to teach our kids to give. As the children in our lives construct their holiday wish lists, we wonder how we can enliven them with a spirit of generosity. In a time of rampant consumerism, when boys and girls are bombarded with advertisements, enticing them to dream about what sorts of presents might wait for them under the tree, we wonder, how do we teach kids to share? How do we remind them of those who don't have as much?

As we were trying to nurture a bit of generosity in our congregation, we talked to Chef Steve Badt of Miriam's Kitchen. Miriam's is located in the basement of our church. They provide a hot, nutritious breakfast and dinner as well as a full range of social services to our homeless guests in Washington, D.C. During this time of year, the children in our congregation actively support Miriam's through Fannie Mae's Help the Homeless Mini-Walk and by having a Thanksgiving fruit collection. In the spring, they'll continue their support, as they plant and herb garden for Miriam's. The staff at Miriam's is innovative and insightful, and Chef Steve (who is also a dad) is particularly gifted in understanding how to get children excited about the important work of sharing. He gave us some wonderful ideas.

•Sponsor a food drive, focusing on things that kids like to eat.  For instance, even though Miriam's always needs coffee and they often encourage churches and businesses to collect it, Steve instructed us to never have a coffee drive with kids. He explained that kids don't like coffee, so they won't get thrilled about the gift. Instead, have them collect things that they eat and like. "If you have a food drive with children, have them collect something like cereal. They eat cereal and they can get excited about sharing it."

• Host a trip for the children to glean at a farm.  Many local farmers will welcome kids to gather apples or other produce for a soup kitchen. This is particularly important for our urban congregation, because the trips not only allow us to inspire kids to share, but it also helps us to have a deeper understanding of where our food grows. For many children, they are learning that fruit doesn't just come from a grocery store, but they begin to realize our important connection to the earth.

• Highlight one item that the homeless need at this time of year.  Chef Steve mentioned that he used to give a long list of things that Miriam's needed, but the impact was greater when he focused on one item. The common items that many men and women need as the season changes are jeans, socks, sleeping bags, blankets, and small (sample or hotel size) shampoo and lotion. There are children in our church who point out the sample shampoo every time they go shopping with their parents, reminding their mom or dad not to forget the homeless.

As we enter this important time in our church calendars, as we begin this season of thanksgiving for all that we have, we can also teach our children how to recognize and support those who are in need.

[Taken with permission from Carol Howard Merritt's blog, Originally posted 10/26/2010]