cultivating compassion

By Becky Baudouin

We’ve all seen heartbreaking
images of the devastation caused by
the earthquake in Haiti. Many of us
have given to organizations that are
able to send aid to those who desperately
need it. With modern technology,
making a donation is as easy as
sending a text or giving online, which
enables resources to be dispatched
quickly and efficiently to where they
are needed most.

While it is important for us to give
in these ways and to model spontaneous
acts of generosity, they can often
go unnoticed by our children. The
concept of giving to those in need
can seem abstract to them. I think
there is tremendous value in providing
opportunities for our children to
serve the under-resourced—opportunities
that engage their hearts and
minds. When kids donate a can of
soup to a food drive, they are doing
a very good thing, but they may or
may not think about where that soup
is going. But when kids work for a couple
of hours packing food for the hungry,
a connection is made and the abstract
becomes concrete.

My husband and I have volunteered
with our daughters several times during
the last couple of years with different
organizations, including the Greater Chicago
Food Depository and Feed My Starving
Children. In both cases, children
over the age of five are welcome to serve
alongside their parents or with a group,
scooping, packing, weighing and labeling
food packages to be distributed to those
in need.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository,
Chicago’s food bank, is a nonprofit food
distribution and training center providing
food for hungry people while striving
to end hunger in our community. GCFD
distributes donated and purchased food
through a network of 650 pantries, soup
kitchens and shelters to 678,000 adults
and children in Cook County every year.
Last year, the Food Depository distributed
58 million pounds of food, the
equivalent of 119,000 meals every day.
When our family and friends volunteered
at GCFD, we worked together in
the "clean room" packing bulk food such
as pasta and cereal, weighing and labeling
the bags so they could be distributed
to food pantries in the Chicago area.
The work is fast-paced and fun, and
there is a definite sense of teamwork with
everyone in the room. We’re all on a mission
to see how much food we can pack
in the couple of hours we are there.
Part way through our shift one of my
daughters shot me a huge smile and said,
"This is so much fun!" I was thinking the
same thing.

"One of the great things about our
Nourish for Knowledge program is that
children get the chance to help other
children, said Bob Dolgan, director of
communications at GCFD. In this program,
Chicago’s schoolchildren in low income
areas are able to bring home
bags of groceries for the weekend. It’s an
opportunity to educate our children and
provide a way for them to give back."
For Feed My Starving Children, a
nonprofit Christian organization, the
approach is simple: children and adults
hand-pack meals formulated specially
for starving children, and they ship the
meals to more than 60 countries around
the world.

Volunteers package 100 percent of
the food, and more than half of FMSC
volunteers are under the age of 18.
In 2008, more than 310,000 volunteers
joined FMSC to package 73.6 million
meals. A permanent packing site is
located in Aurora, with temporary sites
set up throughout the suburbs for special

After volunteering for a couple of
hours with Feed My Starving Children
last spring, we were amazed to learn that
our group packed enough food to feed
80 children for one year.  We left that day
knowing that children would have food to
eat simply because we gave a little bit
of our time. Serving with our kids has
sent a clear message to them that
they really can make a difference.

The reality is, that even with our struggling
economy, if we have warm houses
to live in, clothes in our closets, clean
drinking water and food in our pantries,
we are among the wealthiest in the
world. We can help cultivate compassion
in the hearts of our children by providing
them with serving opportunities that
increase awareness of global poverty as
well as the needs in our own communities.
And often times increased awareness
leads to increased gratitude.

After these experiences with my own
children, I’ve noticed that they talk less
about what they want and are more
thankful for what they have. And it works
on grown-ups too.

How to help
Find out how to volunteer with your kids:

Greater Chicago Food Depository
Call: (773) 247-3663

Feed My Starving Children

Register for volunteer shifts online at

Kids give
Here’s what kids had
to say about their
volunteer experience:

"I noticed how much
other people need
our help. We’re here
throwing away and
wasting food we don’t
like, but in other places
they’re doing all they
can to get one small
meal a day."
—Claire, age 9

"Volunteering at Feed
My Starving Children
was amazing. They
told us where the food
was going and we
watched a video showing
how happy the kids
were when they got
the food. We helped
children, and it was a
great experience. I’ve
gone four times!"
—Katelyn, age 11

"It would be even
better if we had more
people doing this
because we could
make more meals.
My favorite part was
seeing how many bags
of meals we made at
the end. It is a great
—Johnny, age 10

"I learned in the movie
that I want stuff but the
kids in the movie need
stuff. I realized that you
shouldn’t want more
and more for yourself,
but think about the
people who are content
with what they have
when they have less
than you do."
—Lizzy, age 8

"While I was packing
food I thought, ‘this is
really going to go to
someone that needs
it.’ Plus, I did it with the
people I love."
—Lainey, age 11

Becky Baudouin lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters.