By: Sheila Gaudet
Years of experience working for non-profit organizations have given my boys a lot of early exposure to community service projects. For years, they have accompanied me to special events, stuffed mailers, marched in parades, assisted at programs supporting those affected by natural disasters and delivered food baskets. When children are younger, community service tends to be a family activity, but now most high schools require community service hours to be completed as a graduation requirement.
A few years ago, when we moved to Massachusetts from Mississippi, I lost a lot of my service contacts. This year, we have made a concerted effort to become more involved in service projects beyond the activities the kids typically participate in as a part of their regular extracurriculars. Finding opportunities that fit around the schedules of a busy high school student-athlete and an elementary school student and that allow us to actually be of assistance can be difficult. Many organizations now require volunteers to be 16 (mostly for risk-management reasons) and our varying schedules have made a regular commitment difficult.
However, in the last few weeks we have worked on two projects and have enjoyed our experience! Both are annual events that you may be interested in participating in next year.
The first was the annual Turkey Brigade, which thrown by Personal Best Karate Foundation. My youngest son is a member there, but this is a community-wide event. This year, the Turkey Brigade drew about 1,000 volunteers who packed Thanksgiving dinner baskets for over 3,000 families! The packing event took place on a Saturday and was well organized, efficient and fun! As a family, we got into line and started making the rounds, adding the ingredients for a terrific meal along the way. Starting with an aluminum roasting pan as the “basket,” we added potatoes, carrots, butternut squash, gravy mix, cranberry sauce, corn, green beans, brownie mix and stuffing mix. The pans were then wrapped by about a dozen amazing (and I would guess very experienced!) wrappers and stacked in the gym. Once we handed our full pan off to a wrapper, we were back in line to do it again. The entire event took about 2 hours and a local DJ donated time to keep the atmosphere fun. While standing in line, kids could play on the grass outside to burn off extra energy. Some families brought wagons to carry several pans at a time. We weren’t that organized but the boys and I made at least 4 trips through each. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to participate in delivery on Sunday, when a turkey was added to each basket.
This past weekend, we assisted with the annual Jingle Jaunt in Taunton, a 5K Run/Walk, benefiting Massachusetts Special Olympics. My older son and I had pre-registered online as volunteers for a 4-hour morning shift and my younger son was able to register on site when we arrived. Children under age 16 needed to be chaperoned by an adult, but an adult could be in charge of a group as well. We got some very cute volunteer t-shirts and the boys donned their Santa hats to help set the mood. Anthony, my teenager, got to help set up the race course and then to call out split times at the 1 mile mark. The light snow falling down on all the participants and athletes complemented the folks who were dressed as Santa, elves, reindeer, candy canes, Christmas trees, and even a group of characters from Dr. Seuss’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Andrew and I helped pass out goody bags and t-shirts to the athletes after they checked in. The coffee and donuts put Andrew in a good mood and he did well assisting me. After the run, there was a nice hot barbecue lunch and banquet with a silent auction. We also recognized the winners in each age group and the people and organizations that had raised the most money!