It’s never easy to talk to your kids about the harsh realities of life. I remember the first time I thought about telling my oldest about strangers I got sweaty pits: She’s already shy enough, I thought. What’s she going to do now, not talk to anyone?! Luckily my husband handled it with the ease he tends to exude in most situations and just told her the facts: if you don’t know a person, and they’re trying to get information from you, just say ‘no thank you’ and walk away. Simple and clear cut. My husband’s approach to the topic of homelessness was also practical.
“Why don’t we give them granola bars,” he said one day. Brilliant! I thought. Then I don’t have to pretend NOT to stare at the woman on the side of the road who is making me uncomfortable. I could just give her a granola bar instead. Perfect. And that’s where I perfectly left it. I shelved the thought because it required “too much attention” and “too much time”, and really, I thought, what was a little granola bar going to do anyway? A year later, my children started asking the tough questions:
“What’s that man doing?” came from my five-year old.
“Why’s he holding that sign?” retorted my three-year old.
“What does the sign say?” they both questioned.
On and on went the questions (as things tend to go with little ones) until eventually I had to face my discomfort and actually answer them.
I chose the truth.
“That man’s sign says, ‘homeless – anything helps.’ He’s holding it because he doesn’t have a home and needs money and he’s hoping we will help him.”
“Oh mama,” sighed my five-year old, “We have to help him! I would be SO sad if I didn’t have a home. What would I do without my bed!!”
“And my blanket!” chimed my three-year old.
“And our toys!” they screamed in unison.
I bought the granola bars that day.
The following week came our first opportunity to pass them out. We pulled up next to a homeless woman on the corner of Lexington and I felt that same pang of judgment I hated for feeling but couldn’t ignore. I also felt fear: What if this woman yelled at my kids for giving her a lousy granola bar? What if my kids then got scared and this whole thing backfired? I decided to pray, instead of worry, and hoped that God would do the work for me.
I handed my three-year old the granola bar, rolled down her window, and watched in amazement as barriers were shattered: “Thank you baby,” the woman smiled, accepting the gift graciously. Not with contempt, as I had feared; not with a boozy, sloppy stare, but with honest-to-God, grace and love. “I wanna do it next time!” shouted my 5 year-old from the back of the van.
And thus began an ever-evolving conversation about homelessness each and every time we passed out a granola bar. Our conversations changed from, “What’s that man doing?” to, “How can we help him mama?” all because of those “little” granola bars.
Kids soften the harsh realities we often try so hard to hide them from, don’t they? Which got me thinking: what if we let them in on these worldly “secrets” and allowed them to heal poverty, inequality, and injustice on their own? Maybe they would be more effectual than we are? I learned that day that kids really can be the change we wish to see in the world. We just have to let them try.
These granola bars ultimately inspired the first Cooks for a Cause kid event. I knew that waiting until my kids were older to volunteer and serve wasn’t an option for our family. And since there are so few volunteer platforms for preschool-aged kids here in the Twin Cities, I felt called to do something about it.
Therefore, on May 28, 2016, twelve families came to pack up food for Second Harvest Heartland. The kids came and colored “plates” of their favorite foods, told me their favorite food was candy (classic); they then packed up $175 worth of food (!) for families in need and got a certificate and a granola bar (wink) to seal the deal for their efforts. The whole thing lasted 20 minutes, but that was 20 minutes of doing something that could impact them for 20 years to come. And if it didn’t make an impact that time? Then we’ll try again! Eventually the mantra will stick and our kids will start realizing how great it is to give back.
So don’t wait. Learn from my mistake and start now instead of a year later. All it takes is a little effort…and perhaps, a “little” granola bar.