The wedding present we turned into somebody else’s groceries.

Before Mr. Wonderful and I got married, we received a very unique wedding gift. It was a generous check that came with one request:

“Use this to celebrate your first month together as a married couple.”

Last week, when we’d been wed a whole month, I glanced at that check. And here’s what I figured. We could enjoy a nice, kid-free dinner out at some new Austin hot spot. (Fooding is what I love best.) Or we could use this opportunity to teach the The Little Boys Club something about giving as a family.

Kids’ causes are dear to both our hearts, and when it comes to food, well, we’re big fans. So naturally, my first thought was feeding the hungry.

food donations

What if we took the twins shopping for food staples? What if we used that generous check to purchase those groceries and then deliver the donations to our local food bank ourselves?

One-third of the folks our food bank serves are kids, after all. Maybe this gesture could help the boys understand that three square meals a day are not a guarantee for every child in our community.

I floated the idea by ’em over clam chowder. In August. (Because when a kid is stoked about his suggestion for supper, you just go ahead and prepare hot, thick soup on a 103-degree afternoon.)

I told them about the check. I explained how fortunate we were to be eating clam chowder in August because some people don’t get to choose what they eat – let alone eat until their stomachs are full.

That’s when I suggested that we take a little field trip to shop for somebody else’s groceries. They listened carefully. Took it all in. Then, AC chimed in.

“I know something about this,” he said with a serious look on his face. “Because we saved an elderly last Christmas.”

An elderly! I smiled. That was his way of telling us he remembered the space heater we donated to a senior in our community last December as part of their school’s holiday wish-granting program. (We’re big on planting the seed of giving in their hearts.)

Anyway, I could tell we had buy-in, so I put AC in charge of the shopping list.

  • peanut butter
  • canned chicken and tuna
  • canned vegetables
  • canned fruit
  • brown rice
  • cereal
  • canned beans

When we got to the store, he followed me up and down each aisle, dutifully checking off each item. Brother loaded up our shopping cart and Dad made sure we didn’t go over the number on that check. Teamwork had us outta there with a cart full of groceries in less than 20 minutes.donations

A short drive down the road later and we pulled into the parking lot at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, where we dropped the groceries in the donation bin.

“How do you feel?” I asked them.

“Good!” they answered simultaneously.

Me too, I thought. Not a bad way to fulfill that request to celebrate our first month as newlyweds. I hope the boys will remember our “celebration” field trip as fondly as I will.

Wanna help feed your neighbors? Find your local food bank by ZIP code at FeedingAmerica.org. Whether you’re interested in donating your time, a few bucks or a couple of cans, you can get involved in more ways than one. And if you live in Central Texas, the Capital Area Food Bank makes it easy to get involved.

Grooming the littlest philanthropists.

I recently spent some time helping the little dudes set up an online giving page for the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser. Their dad and I explained the basic concept of charitable giving and how people’s donations could help fund research for children with heart conditions. And while one of the twins was clearly more interested in the potential prizes for participating in the campaign, the other took us both by surprise when he said he wanted to ask our neighbors for money.

“You know how much I love animals … and children are animals, too,” he explained matter-of-factly.

Fair enough. My heart swelled at his compassion. Mr. Wonderful escorted our newest philanthropist around the building as he knocked on doors reciting his practiced plea. And although he only came back with a few bucks, I could not have been more proud that he made the decision to stand for something. I could hardly believe this was the same kid who hid behind his dad’s thigh when we first met.

Sowing the seeds.

It’s important to me to plant the seeds of giving in these little boys’ hearts – and I can’t get enough of their innocent impressions of the world. We build a gratitude tree together each fall. And a couple Christmases ago, I encouraged them to choose a child’s name from our church’s holiday giving tree. These “angel trees” are usually covered with paper ornaments that have a child’s wish written on it. You take an ornament, buy the item requested and return it to the tree for delivery to said child. After we explained to the twins that there are many less fortunate children in our community who would benefit from a little generosity, they chose to fulfill a wish from a boy their age who asked for an art set. I gave them each a little money and we let them pick out a present. This task also turned into a teachable moment about compromise and budgeting since they had to agree on the perfect kit and make sure they had enough money to cover the cost. It was a good start.

Then, last December, we tried something a little different. As we approached a similar giving tree at their school’s winter festival, I noticed a very different kind of wish hanging on the lowest branch. It said, “Elderly – Heater”. My eyes widened. Mr. Wonderful must have caught my expression because he grabbed the ornament and promptly declared, “This is the one.” The boys didn’t object. So instead of shopping the toy aisle last holiday, they got to compare space heaters for a home-bound senior citizen. The Littles even pitched in a few bucks of their own that time.

Opportunities to demonstrate and develop these boys’ character usually arise when we least expect it. And I’m incredibly grateful to have a partner in life who is committed to making those moments meaningful.

What are your strategies for raising kids who are grounded and generous?

I guess I’m doing something right.

aggressive goodness

It’s no secret that I’m an advocate for girls’ education and empowerment. Research shows that investing in young women and promoting their education correlates with healthier families, higher family incomes and economic development. I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative effect that a good education can have on a girl struggling to find her place in this world.

Oh, so this is about girl power? Kind of, but that’s not what I’m getting at. The point is that opportunity doesn’t knock on every girl’s door. And that’s where my campaign for education came in.

Over the last couple of months, I appealed to friends and family requesting donations for my annual fundraiser for the Young Women’s Alliance Foundation. YWAF is a female-focused leadership organization that I believe in and serve with — and it’s our gig to award grants and scholarships to young women and girls in the Austin area. These donations not only help provide local young women the gift of higher education, but they also help fund the character-building organizations that support them. These donations create economic opportunities. They support the next generation of smart, capable women leaders. That’s what I’m getting at.

For two months I enlisted donors to answer this call. My call. Not theirs. Most of them don’t really know what YWAF is. Heck, many don’t even live in the Austin area. They simply cared enough to make a donation to an organization that I told them I invest half my time in. And I guess I’m doing something right.

Since I started my campaign in November, I’ve been carrying around a little extra weight. That’s because I felt my heart grow three sizes every time I saw a name appear on my fundraising page offering someone else’s hard-earned money to help fund a stranger’s future. Incredibly, that happened 83 times — totaling $4,500 for education.

Nearly $20,000 was raised by our membership at large, and the benefits are already having an impact. Last week, the YWAF awarded a $5,000 Community Grant to Explore Austin, an awesome local organization that combines the benefits of mentoring and outdoor adventure for under-served youth in 6th-12th grades. Explore Austin will use the grant money to expand their girls’ program to a second middle school campus, enabling them to serve 90 girls by the end of 2014. That’s a significant expansion of the program.

Grateful is just not strong enough a word. I’m so humbled to have friends and family who helped make that possible.