3 ways Houston families can volunteer this summer


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Jun 11, 2023

3 ways Houston families can volunteer this summer

Volunteer at HSPCA Parents wanting to expose their children to volunteerism over

Volunteer at HSPCA

Parents wanting to expose their children to volunteerism over the summer have options for altruism, even from home or on a road trip.

Cynthia Stielow of Kids’ Meals says that June, July and August mark the organization's highest need for help.

The organization distributes free daily meals to children in need who are 6 and younger. When school is closed, she says, the number of meals delivered increases from 7,000 a day to 13,000.

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"Because you can't pull up and not feed 8- and 10-year-old siblings who are standing there," Stielow says of older children who typically rely on a meal program during the school year.

The organization's top need is decorated lunch bags to hold the free meals. Families can purchase standard lunch sacks — Stielow suggests a dollar retailer — to decorate using markers or stickers.

"It's so easy for families to do," she says.

Some kids draw pictures and heartfelt messages on the bags. Others add tic-tac-toe squares, knock-knock jokes, riddles and mazes or transform the bags into puppets that can be used after mealtime.

"You don't have to be Picasso for someone to appreciate your artwork," she says. "You can show love to somebody in such a simple way."

Parents sometimes aim to stop the summer slide, she says, by using the bags to write Texas state history facts or simple math problems.

"Taking time to decorate a bag for another child they will never meet, I think it's one of the purest forms of altruism." she says of the project that can be completed sitting by the pool or while on a car trip.

While decorating, kids understand that "we fill them with food that changes someone's day," she says.

Children on the organization's delivery route are so accustomed to the colorful bags, in fact, that if they receive their meal in a blank bag, they sometimes inquire if they can swap for a decorated bag.

"It's like receiving a gift, a present that's beautifully wrapped," she says.

In addition, there is a need for volunteers to pack and sort meals in the Kids’ Meals warehouse or to fill in for delivery shifts using a family's own vehicle.

"Handing meals out the window (to) another child your same age, it is a really impactful way to love the world," she says.

Parents who make volunteering a priority can "start a child off for a life of taking care of their community."

Info: kidsmealsinc.org

At Houston SPCA, kids 16 and older can volunteer to be part of the summer Critter Crew.

The organization asks youth volunteers for a time commitment totaling three weeks over the summer, during which they will assist teachers with HSPCA's Critter Camps.

At the day camp, volunteers help with animal interactions, organize crafts activities and assist with science-based learning.

Volunteers choose HSPCA for a chance to work with animals, says HSPCA's Julie Kuenstle, and learn, "I get so much back by … doing what I love."

While helping campers interact with dogs and cats or visiting the barn, volunteers play a key role in reporting to staff updates on animals' personalities, which helps with adoptions.

Summer volunteers might choose to train for a longer-term commitment, which could lead to helping in the barn.

In addition to housing horses, the barn has sheltered Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, ducks, sheep, goats, donkeys — and even an emu.

Volunteers help with feeding, mucking stalls and "doing their part to get this animal back to where they were at one time in their lives … I think that's a gift," Kuenstle says.

For families, summer is a popular time to foster animals. With kids home to help, parents have more time to dedicate to an animal in need. The time period is flexible, she says, even for as little as a one-week commitment.

"Volunteerism is the core of what we do," she says.

Info: houstonspca.org

Generation Serve, the organization that pairs families with local charities on a shift by shift basis, has opened up its online calendar of summer volunteer opportunities.

Opportunities include beautifying the Houston Botanic Garden, delivering groceries through Meals on Wheels, sorting at Houston Food Bank and working as a packer at Undies for Everyone.

At the Undies for Everyone sorting center, volunteers as young as 8 can box pairs of new underwear, learning that kids are less likely to attend school if they don't have clean underwear to wear, says Hilary Espinosa of Generation Serve.

"They get to see and feel and be part of that energy really making an impact (on peers)," Espinosa says.

From home, virtual and self-paced activities include baking dog treats for shelter animals, assembling hygiene kids for Be A Resource for CPS Kids and crafting bird feeders for Keep Houston Beautiful.

"We know that the younger that kids start to volunteer, the more likely they are to continue and fall in love with volunteering," Espinosa says. "We want it to become habit and … part of the fabric of your being."

Info: generationserve.org

Allison Bagley is a Houston-based writer.