11 simple ways for your family to make a difference right now

Read through these ideas for community service together, and pick one or more activities that spark your interest. They’re easy enough for even toddlers to take part in, yet substantial enough to give teens a real sense of accomplishment.

  1. Make your community’s commute more eco-friendly by organizing a carpool or walking schoolbus. You’ll take cars off the road by offering to drive or walk neighbourhood children to school along with your own. Get your kids to raise awareness by explaining to their friends how this reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which helps the environment. ISSUE YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: the environment.
  2. Put tiny toiletries to good use. Ask friends who travel to save the complimentary soaps, shampoo and lotion from their hotel stays, and see if you can get donations of toothbrushes and travel-sized toothpaste from your dentist. Top up your supply, if needed, by shopping for some other basics, such as granola bars and bottled water. Then set up an assembly line for your family to package one of each item in a zip-top bag. Drop the kits off at a shelter or hand them out to the homeless on your next trip downtown. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: homelessness, poverty, inclusion.
  3. Try these easy ways to fundraise. Want to support a literacy nonprofit? Let friends and neighbors know you plan to hold your own a read-a-thon over a holiday or school break, and ask them to sponsor you. Collecting money for the Humane Society? Consider putting on a race for friends, family and their dogs—and charge an entry fee or ask them (the humans, that is) to canvass for donations. Other sure-fire fundraisers include bake sales, yard sales, car washes and lemonade stands. Whatever you choose, be sure to plan out what each member of the family will be responsible for, what the timelines are, and any potential pitfalls. Remember, you don’t have to stick to registered charities: for example, you could raise money to buy a buddy bench for your children’s school. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: literacy, animal rights, diversity and inclusion.
  4. Collect gently used clothing, toys or books for donation. If you choose to go this route, be sure to contact the receiving organization in advance to find out what they actually need—otherwise they may not accept your donation. Some possibilities include puzzles or board games for hospitals or seniors’ homes, books for libraries or hospitals, clothing and coats for homeless shelters or newcomer centers. (In a pinch, Diabetes Canada accepts small household and electronic items, clothing, footwear and toys.) Your kids can help to clean, sort and pack the items you receive. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: poverty, diversity and inclusion.
  5. Clean up your neighborhood. You don’t need to wait for an “official” park clean-up day, go ahead and don some sturdy gloves, grab a garbage bag and go. If there’s no park nearby, just pick up the litter you encounter on your local streets. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: the environment.
  6. Create a pet project. Screen a family-friendly movie like Ratatouille and ask guests to donate nonperishable pet food or toys that you can later take to an animal shelter. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: animal rights.
  7. Sock it to homelessness. Host a no-shoes “sock-hop dance at your house, asking guests to bring packs of socks for the homeless as their admission “fee.”” ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: homelessness, poverty.
  8. Capitalize on craft time. If crafts and coloring are your family’s thing, find out if your local children’s hospital or seniors’ home would like some homemade “Get Well” or “Have a Nice Day” cards and, if so, how many you should make. While you’re busy creating, talk about what a simple gesture like this might mean to someone who is sick or lonely. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: diversity and inclusion.
  9. Pick up nonperishables. Go on a family outing to the grocery store and let your kids choose which non-perishable food items to buy and donate—but give them a few guidelines to work with (such as cost and nutritional requirements) to use this as an opportunity to talk about the challenges low-income families face and how some can’t even afford healthy food. Then drop off your order at the food bank or other collection center. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: hunger, poverty, food insecurity.
  10. Play Santa. During the holiday season, consider shopping together for toys, books or clothes to take to a holiday gift drive. Keep in mind that tweens and teens are often overlooked, so assign at least one family member to choose an item appropriate for that age group. Another option: find a store that offers purchases on layaway and anonymously settle someone’s holiday gift balance. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: poverty, diversity and inclusion.
  11. Help out a neighbor. Offer to rake leaves, shovel the walk, do housework or run errands for an infirm or elderly neighbor or friend. As a plus, since you’ll be doing it as group, it shouldn’t take long to finish. ISSUES YOU’RE ENGAGING WITH: diversity and inclusion.