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Blessing bag party

I hope you have given some thought to making a blessing bag this week! I decided to invite some friends over for a blessing bag party. We grabbed sample-sized things we all had lying around, brought something for a potluck lunch, and had a great time serving together! We were able to make around 30 blessing bags – enough for us all to put one in our vehicle, with plenty left over to give to the hospital.

Blessing bag party

 

If you haven’t done something like this before, give it a try! It’s so easy to find little opportunities to serve, and it’s so wonderful to serve with friends!

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The Blessing Bag Challenge

Well friends, it’s time for a new challenge! This is one of my very favorite ways to teach my children to serve. It’s time to make blessing bags!

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You might have seen or heard of these before. It’s a pretty simple idea: Take a Ziploc bag. Fill it with small toiletries. Give it to someone in need.

The first time I made blessing bags, I intended on keeping one in my car at all times and giving them to any homeless people I might see. I have done that, and it has led to some very special experiences. But I found that often when I saw people in need of help, I didn’t feel like I could safely get to them and give them a bag. I was left with a stack in my closet that weren’t getting used very fast. So here are a few different suggestions of ways you can bless others with these bags:

  • As mentioned, we’ve kept them in the car to hand out to homeless people that we might see asking for money.
  • We’ve donated them to a local shelter for homeless men. This program works to help men in our community get sober, get clean, and get working. I love what they do, and I love donating to them. I knew that they would make sure they got to people who truly needed help.
  • We’ve donated to our local women’s shelter. When most women arrive, they have almost no possessions. To have a bag of toiletries handed to you – it might make the day just a tiny bit more bearable.
  • We’ve taken bags to a local outreach program for homeless teenagers. They go out and work with kids on the street, and they love having these bags to hand out to the kids.
  • Most recently, we donated them to the hospital. Almost any ward would probably take them, but we brought ours to the area where the new moms recover from childbirth. Some women go into labor so suddenly, they don’t have time to pack a bag. Having the opportunity to clean up a little can make a huge difference!

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So what goes in a blessing bag? Well, think of your audience. Whenever I make them, I like to include soap, shampoo, a toothbrush, and toothpaste. If it’s going to a woman, I like to add lotion or a sanitizer. Sometimes I’ll add a razor if it’s going to a man. A pair of socks, chapstick, hair bands, fingernail clippers … use your imagination! I also like to include a few quarters in the bags that I keep in my car – enough to give someone the dignity of going to a store or a vending machine and being able to choose a snack. (Y’all know how much I love quarters!)

If you have a few extra moments, you might want to put an encouraging note inside. This is a great activity for kids to help with!

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(I love 6-year-old handwriting, don’t you?)

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Would you like to donate them to an organization but don’t know where to go? Try google-ing “shelter” and your zip code. Shelters for families, women’s shelters, shelters for teenagers … I was amazed to see how much need there was in a 20 mile radius from my home! You can also bring them to your local hospital. If you’d like, you can call ahead and ask to speak to a volunteer coordinator – he or she will likely be very happy to tell you where your donation would be most needed.

If you’d like to assemble a few blessing bags but you’re on a tight budget, here are a few tips:

  • Ask your friends for donations. Many people, particularly those who travel frequently, have a stash of sample-sized items that they might be willing to share.
  • Check out clearance racks. I was at Walgreens this week and found tons of travel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles marked down to 24 cents each. I’ve also found travel-sized toothpaste marked down to 75% off at CVS. When Bath and Body works has its semi-annual sale, I bring a coupon and hit up the clearance bins.
  • Reach out to local businesses. Ask your dentist for some sample-sized toothpaste. Contact a local hotel and see if they’d be willing to sell you some travel-sized toiletries at cost. Most people would love to help with projects like this – by asking others for support, you’re giving them the opportunity to serve with you.
  • Host a Blessing Bag Packing Party. I did this once, and it was so fun! Everyone brought whatever small toiletry items they had at home. I went to Target and used a Shopkick-earned gift card to buy a bunch of travel toothbrushes. (Remember, unless you’re planning on using a gallon-sized Ziploc, you need to get a toothbrush that folds in half. They’re usually around $1 in the travel sections of most stores, or you can find them at most dollar stores.) We were able to make enough for each of us to keep in our car, and we had a bunch left over to donate to a local shelter.

So that’s it! There are a lot of tips here, but it’s a pretty simple challenge. Who’s in??

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Saving Money on Hygiene Kits by Ordering in Bulk

As I have shared a bit with you on Facebook, I recently reached out to members of my (new-to-me) community on a local FB page. I asked if anyone wanted to join me in packing hygiene kits for the homeless. To my amazement, people said yes – and our little group now numbers over 300! We pack hygiene kits monthly, and once to twice a month, I go downtown and join forces with a wonderful catering company. They feed the homeless, and they allow me to set up a table with toiletry kits (and whatever other donations we can gather). What a blessing this has been to me!

Hygiene kits and other donations for the homeless

As we have gathered donations, we have found that there are some items that we can often get for free (shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion). There are other items that we can get sporadically (vanity kits, bags, toothbrushes, toothpaste). And then there are items that we like to purchase to make our hygiene kits more … well, awesome. Many of the people who we serve live and sleep on the streets. Many more live in shelters and transitional housing. And almost without fail, they are grateful for whatever we can give them. And so every month, we try our best to give whatever we can. Before we meet, I do inventory of what we have already, I share what we need with my group members, I include links to order online, and we buy whatever we can. I spend a lot of time researching the very best deals I can find so we can maximize our budgets.

I quickly learned that shopping for items in bulk online was almost always MUCH cheaper than buying them at the grocery store or drug store, even with a coupon. So that’s what we’ve been doing for the last several months – gathering the items that we have been able to get donated, then filling in the gaps with bulk orders.

A few months ago, I started noticing articles about MDSupplies.com. They were all written by people who pack hundreds (or thousands!) of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes and who have found that they can save a lot of money by ordering in bulk through this company. I didn’t bother even looking at first – I will be packing 33 shoeboxes this year, and I don’t need to buy toiletry items in the hundreds for them.

Then it hit me: HYGIENE KITS!

I looked at their website and realized that their prices were almost all cheaper than what I had been paying elsewhere. But I was hesitant to ask my group to purchase something in bulk when I had never seen any of their products. So I found them on Facebook, sent them a message, and they generously arranged for me to receive samples of many of the items that I was interested in. So on behalf of my group, and any of you who might also be interested in packing large amounts of shoeboxes or blessing bags, I wanted to share these products with you. (Note: I am listing the prices that are current as of the date of publication. They can, of course, change at any time, so double-check before ordering. I also wanted to mention that I am not being paid for this review and I will receive no commission if you make a purchase – I am just really excited to have found a source that will allow us to do so much more with our money.)

 
MDSupplies samples

  • Dukal emergency blankets. This is the most expensive item I received to review, and the one that has the greatest potential to be life-saving. If you are in an area with a lot of snow, as I am, these are a huge gift to those who are sleeping outside. They’re heavy duty and water resistant. 50 of them cost $101.49; $2.029 each.
  • Dukal zip bags. I will use the 3×5 bags to hold Q-tips and floss samples – I have been buying snack-sized bags, but these are significantly cheaper at $6.99 per thousand, or $.0069 cents each. And the 9×6 bags are large enough to hold a complete hygiene kit; they cost $33.67 for 1000, or $.033 each. (These are wider than a sandwich bag, so they can hold full-sized toothbrushes. The cheaper, bulk toothbrushes that we buy are a bit shorter, so for most of our kits, we could use the smaller and less expensive 5×8 bags, which are $.016 each.) Price-wise, I can’t find anything cheaper than the 3×5 bags or the 9×6 bags elsewhere. The 5×8 bags are roughly the same cost as generic sandwich bags, but they’re a bit bigger.
  • Dukal combs. These are small but are the perfect size for our hygiene kits, and are as sturdy as the other combs that we have bought in bulk. This is one of my favorite deals: $34.23 for a case of 2160, or $.015 cents per comb.
  • Dukal toothbrush cap. These toothbrush caps were the reason that I decided to look seriously into MDSupplies.com. I know that many times, the simple bag that we give out the hygiene kits in is the same bag that will store all of these toiletries once they’ve been used… meaning the used soap and razor will be hanging out with a toothbrush. I’m not a big germaphobe, but that creeps me out a little bit. These caps fit perfectly with the bulk toothbrushes we buy, and the price is amazing: $72.73 for 1400, or just $.05 per cap.
  • Dukal fingernail clippers. Nail clippers are one of my favorite items to add to hygiene kits. I used to buy them at the dollar store; then I realized that I could purchase them cheaper on bulk online. But these nail clippers are even cheaper than the best price I’d found previously: a case of 288 is $69.88, making these $.242 each. (Goodbye, dollar store nail clippers!)
  • Dynarex twin blade razors. These razors are simple, but they will get the job done. Many men ask for these on our distributions, and we rarely have them, so I’m excited to stock up. They are $23.76 for 300, or $.079 each.
  • Dawn Mist brushless shave cream by Dukal. This is a great way to add shaving cream to our kits – previously the best deal I had found was $1 for a travel-sized tube. And while that is certainly a great gift because it can be used several times, since we are making hundreds of kits at a time, it wasn’t something that has been in my budget. These small packets are $59.56 for 1000, or $.059 each. This means that, by buying in bulk, we can provide a razor and a single-use shave cream for less than 14 cents in each kit. Amazing!
  • Dukal clear soap box, unhinged. As I mentioned above with the toothbrush caps, I love the idea of something that will allow used soap to stay contained, rather than sliming around inside the bag. These soap boxes are large enough to fit a standard bar of soap, or a few smaller hotel-sized bars. It’s very easy to open, but has enough grip that when I hold the box by the top, the bottom piece will not slide loose. These are $18.74 for 144, or $.13 each.
  • Dynarex roll-on deodorant. This is the only sample that I decided to remove from my shopping list. It is a liquid deodorant, and the second ingredient is alcohol. Every agency I have worked with has strongly advised me to avoid products with a strong alcohol content, even sanitizer or mouthwash, so this won’t work for my group. At some point, I might look into the other deodorant options that MDSupplies offers – their Dukal stick deodorant, for instance, comes to under 50 cents each. This is an item that I am asked for frequently but never have enough of, so I’d love to find an inexpensive source for this.

Hygiene kit for the homeless

If you are interested in ordering any of the above items for your own hygiene kits or shoeboxes, I have some good news. First of all, everything above ships for FREE, no minimum purchase required. And second, the awesome people at MDSupplies brainstormed with me to come up with a list that I could share with my packing group to make ordering for the homeless simple, and they linked us to a second list that has been put together for ordering shoebox supplies. So if you’d like to check out anything that they offer, you can go right here. Again, I am not affiliated with MDSupplies and I do not get paid for any orders placed through this link; I am just truly excited to share this to help others maximize their money so that more people can be blessed.

Thanks so much for reading – and if you have any questions, you can comment here, or go directly to the MDSupplies & Service Facebook page. They have been incredibly helpful and have answered all of my questions quickly and kindly.

Happy shopping!

An Important Life Lesson Learned from the World’s Ugliest Scarf

Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a rut. Rather unsatisfied with life.

Please tell me I’m not the only one who feels that way sometimes.

I know that my feelings are partly due to our recent move. We have a lovely new home in a wonderful neighborhood. The schools are great. We have many fun things to do within easy driving distance of our home. We have met so many good, kind, friendly people. But … I am someone who likes having roots. And two months hasn’t been quite long enough for me to put down roots.

So I’ve been going through the motions of daily life, but not very happily. As I wash the millionth(ish) dish of the day, as I vacuum the dog hair off of the stairs, as I dust, as I scrub, as I cook, I have had the same thought over and over.

“This isn’t what I want out of life. I want to be doing something more.”

More.

What is that “more”?

I’m not exactly sure. But as I’ve been trying to figure out what this “more” is that I want to be doing, I can let you know one thing: it does not involve housework. It involves … writing a book, perhaps. It involves sponsoring an orphanage in a third-world country. It involves connecting with people who share the deepest desire of my heart: making this world a better and a happier place, one act of kindness at a time.

And here, somewhere in between of a sink full of dishes and a bookshelf that needs to be dusted, I haven’t been able to find this “more.”

But I’m trying.

An Important Life Lesson Learned from the World's Ugliest Scarf

So yesterday, I took my son with me to run some errands. There is a new Michaels in our town, and off we headed, coupon in hand. As we wandered through the aisles, looking for felt to make our Star Wars Light Saber Popsicle Holders, I ran across the yarn aisle. I haven’t done anything with yarn since college, but I have been thinking about getting some kind of loom so I could teach my kids how to crochet simple hats. These would be great to add to my shoeboxes or blessing bags, and I thought it would be a good fine-motor skill for them to develop. I spotted the most simple loom – four pegs, just wide enough to crochet a scarf on. And it was cheap, and I had a coupon. Done.

I moved on to the yarn, and – yay! – skeins of soft yarn were on a “Doorbuster” sale. 70% off? Done. As I looked at colors, my son got excited.

“Mom, are you going to make ME a scarf?”

Well … I honestly hadn’t planned on that. But seeing the joy and hope on his face, I couldn’t help but say, “Sure, buddy. Pick your color.”

We settled on yellow AND black (“A bumblebee scarf, Mom!”), grabbed a few more skeins for future projects, and checked out. We came home and got busy with other projects, and then nap, and then a play date, and then dinner. And suddenly it was after 8 pm, and my son was asking (for the tenth time), “But Mom, when are you going to start my scarf?”

With a fair warning that I wouldn’t have time to finish it, I had him gather the supplies together for me. My plan was to figure out how to do it, and then let him help. I started working, and within a few minutes, I had the hang of it. And all kinds of ideas were running through my head. I could make scarves for my shoeboxes! I could give them to the homeless! Hey, maybe I’ll get so good, I can sell them, and use the money to buy more stuff for my shoeboxes! This is going to be the best hobby ever!

And then I looked … and I realized something.

This scarf. Was. UGLY.

Beginning a scarf

The thing is, with a loom this big, you’re supposed to use REALLY fluffy yarn. The thought had vaguely occurred to me, but, you know. 70% off. I thought if I doubled it, it would work out just fine.

I stared at the few rows of hideousness, all visions of crocheting fame flying out the window. It doesn’t even look like a scarf! It looks like … well, something that my 5-year-old would have done. Certainly not something that could be considered clothing. I sighed.

And then I heard a gasp.

“Mom. Look! LOOK! It’s … it’s a BUMBLEBEE SCARF!”

And I looked.

Not at the scarf.

At my son.

He was absolutely thrilled.

Apparently, I was making his dreams come true.

I smiled. And I kept going. Because apparently, this ugly scarf … it’s going to be enough.

I did a few more rows, then put it away as my husband and I put the kids to bed and worked on a few things around the house. I forgot about our new project.

But my son didn’t.

This morning, as I began preparing breakfast, he asked eagerly, “Mom, while you cook my eggs, can you finish my scarf?”

I started to chuckle. First, that he thinks that I’m coordinated enough to handle a hot pan, flipping eggs, AND a crochet hook all at once without scalding or impaling myself. And second, that he feels so secure in my love for him that he didn’t think I had anything better to do with my time than to cook for him and to make him a scarf.

And then I stopped in my tracks.

And tears came to my eyes.

And I realized something.

In this search for “more” … in this quest for fulfillment … in this desire to change the world … in the middle of this passion to make the world a better place, one act of kindness at a time …

I had forgotten.

I had forgotten that there is really, truly nothing better for me to do with my time than to cook for my son and to make him a scarf.

Because if I could change the world … this is what would be happening. In every single home where a child lived, there would be someone who has nothing better to do than to cook breakfast and to make a scarf. Every child would know this. Every parent would know this. And with that love, with that security, with that confidence, that parent and that child would walk out the door together, ready to bless everyone in sight.

I began to look around my kitchen, and I began to see things. The dishes left in the sink from last night were a remnant of the meal that I had prepared. My family had eaten. We had discussed our day, we’d made plans, we’d set a family goal. We’d left that table full and happy. That time in the kitchen, those chores that I often dread – they were an investment in my family.

Fruit bowl

The fruit bowl on the counter was full. And it was full because I had taken the time to grocery shop with my son the day before, teaching him about healthy food choices that give our bodies energy. And as I peeled and washed and chopped, I was teaching my children to invest in their bodies and their health. I was giving them the strength they needed to step out the front door and change the world.

Every meal. Every dish. Every hug and kiss and song and prayer. Every story. Every tangle brushed out of long hair. Every ride to school, or to swim lessons, or to a play date. Every shopping trip to buy clothing or food for growing bodies. Every bit of unpaid, unnoticed, thankless service.

They all matter.

Every single one.

This message is for you, exhausted new mom who feels like you do nothing but feed and clean and burp and rock.

This message is for you, young dad who has forgotten what “free time” feels like because every extra minute you can find is dedicated to your children.

It’s for you, teacher who spends day after day after day trying to instruct and correct and protect and guide children who are not your own, but who you love with all of your heart.

It’s for you, who spends your days brushing tangles out of hair, breaking up arguments, folding piles of laundry, bathing little bodies, and cutting food into tiny pieces.

This message is for you.

What you do every day: it is enough.

You are enough.

By all means, take a break when you need it. Reach outside yourself to serve and to make a difference. Find your passion and pursue it. Do what you can do to make yourself strong and happy. Because if you are strong and happy, your family will benefit.

But then come back. And fry another egg. And know that in that small act, you are changing the world.

And maybe … just maybe … you can even crochet an ugly scarf.

Ugly scarf

The Shelter Challenge (Updated)

I’m back, y’all!   

(Only I’m in Colorado now, not Texas. Am I still allowed to say y’all? I hope so!)

These past few months have been busy. They’ve been chaotic. They’ve been a little bit rough. And I am so, SO excited to be back to writing and sharing with you! Life still isn’t 100% settled, but I’m hoping to be able to share weekly service challenges with you once again. And frankly, I’m ready to stop thinking about myself and start looking for ways to make a difference in my new community.

So this week, we repeat a previous challenge. And since we’ve done this before, I’m going to give you a few options: Easy, intermediate, and difficult. Are you in??

This week, we’re going to reach out to a local shelter and see what we can do to help! And for me, being new in my community, I’m starting from scratch again. I am so excited!

Simple Ways to Serve Your Local Shelter

To begin, everyone has the same assignment. Are you ready?

Find an empty box.

(Seriously. That’s it.)

Just get an empty box and leave it in a closet somewhere. As you find out what your local shelter needs, this will be where you’ll put your stash. When the box is full, time to donate! So simple.

And now, our three other ways to help a local shelter. Easy, intermediate, or difficult – what are you up for this week?

So first, the easy plan. If this is your first time participating, you just have two things to do. First of all, do an internet search: simply type in your zipcode and the word “shelter”. Then find something that touches your heart. Homeless shelter? Shelter for families? Temporary housing for teens? An animal shelter? Just pick one. And then step two: find out what they need! Often, you can find a wishlist online that you can simply print. If not, make a quick phone call and ask what the items are that they need the most. Write them down and stick the list somewhere that you’ll see.

That’s it!

I am a firm believer that the first step to making a difference in our community is simply knowing what our community needs. From there, helping will be much easier!Serving as friends

Okay, ready for the intermediate plan?

If you’ve participated in our shelter challenge previously, you already know what your local shelter’s needs are. So this week … time to do something about it! Here are my ideas for you:

* Set aside a cash budget. Then start bargain shopping! Does your shelter need new bedding? Check your local department stores (with coupons, of course) for sales and clearance deals. Do they need canned food? Scour your weekly ads and see how far you can stretch that budget.

* See what you already have in your home that you might be able to donate. Have a surplus of canned food that you probably won’t use before it expires? Share it with someone who is hungry! Have clothing that no longer fits? Let it go, and let it bless someone who does not have the means to buy new clothing. But please, please be mindful that you are not donating junk. Secondhand clothing? Totally fine. Terribly ripped and stained clothing? That will likely end up thrown away. I read this powerful article (and the buzz it stirred up on Facebook) almost two years ago, and it stuck with me. Donating things that our families would use if we still have the need for them – awesome. Donating garbage that we just can’t stand to throw away though – that just causes more work for the volunteers who sort through donations. When in doubt, give the organization a call and ask! Some organizations will accept tattered clothing to cut into rags, and some will have to take time to sort and throw it away. Just be mindful of what you are giving and take a moment to be sure it will be a blessing, not a burden.

* Get your friends to help you. I can’t think of a better way to make a difference than to reach beyond your own influence and let others help! As I’ve shared with you before, my friends and I have done everything from throwing a baby shower for charity to making blessing bags, and it has been so awesome. Tell your friends what you are gathering together, and see if anyone has anything else to donate.

* Advocate. Even if you have no money and almost no time, you can do that! Just let people know what the needs are in your neighborhood. Chatting with a coworker or a neighbor? Mention your local shelter and their needs. Are you on Facebook? Share a link to your local shelter’s Facebook page or wish list and encourage people to check it out.

Even if you are not in a financial position to help right now, you might be able to share the information with someone who can help.

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Okay. There are our easy and intermediate challenges. Are you ready for the advanced challenge??

Volunteer.

I know that time is precious. I know that you might not think you can commit to helping a local organization on a regular basis. But often, their most desperate need is for volunteers. Women’s shelters need babysitters so the moms can attend work and training classes. Homeless shelters (and youth shelters) need mentors. Animal shelters need people to play with and walk the pets. Food pantries need volunteers to stock shelves and fill orders. Many organizations need people to do simple tasks like answer phones and help with paperwork.

They need your time.

If you are in a season of life with a few extra hours a week, make a phone call and see who you can help!

New mom care package

So there is your challenge for this week! Here is my personal plan:

* Find a local women’s shelter, homeless shelter, and animal shelter
* Start a “donation box” to collect needed items
* Donate at least one bag of items

What about you? Have you done our challenge before? How are you going to participate this week?

How to Give Away your Birthday – or Un-Birthday – to Charity

Hey, guys. Not to brag or anything. Buuuut … today’s my un-birthday.

(Yours too? What a coincidence!)

Several years ago, when I came across this awesome post, I was intrigued. A woman decided to celebrate her 38th birthday by performing 38 random acts of kindness for strangers. She did all kinds of awesome things, but my favorite: “Bought a gift card for groceries and turned around  and handed it to woman in line behind me.  I wasn’t prepared for the look on her face. I immediately left before I started to cry.” Her acts of kindness idea began to spread, and now there’s a whole group of amazing people who have joined the Birthday Project movement.

Once I read this inspiring story, I knew I couldn’t wait the nearly 7 months until my birthday to do it. (Plus, my birthday is pretty busy – that’s shoebox packing party day.) So I decided to celebrate my half birthday doing random acts of kindness.

And that was it. I was hooked.

Something I’ve realized in the last few years: it’s awesome to choose a meaningful day (like a birthday or an anniversary) to serve and to spread kindness. But really, we don’t need a special day.

Today – right now – there is someone who needs you. Someone needs your kindness, someone needs your compassion, someone needs the empathy that you can provide.

So our service challenge this week: celebrate your un-birthday. And go do something kind.

The Un-Birthday Challenge

The first step: choose what cause you want to support. We have lots of ideas from past challenges – or, as always, follow your heart and come up with something unique.

* Serve animals in need
* Support a local shelter
* Do something nice for a teacher
* Get baking and serve like my grandma
* Do a random at of kindness from this list that we came up with as a Let’s Do Some Good Today community

So once you have your cause chosen, what should you do?

Well, it’s your unbirthday! Grab some snacks and throw a party!

Party food

(I’m serious.)

(Except your food doesn’t have to be that fancy. I am just lucky enough to have Pinterest-y friends.)

Serving as friends

An easy way to maximize how much good you do this week is to unite with friends. You can keep it very simple.Just reach out on social media, make some calls, send some e-mails, send some texts, chat at work or at playgroup or wherever you see your people. Let your friends know what you’re doing and ask them if they’d like to join you. Whether you provide all of the supplies or ask everyone to bring something is up to you. I have done this numerous times, and it has always been a blast! I have had blessing bag parties. I have had a baby shower for charity. I have had shoebox packing parties. And recently, I saw this fantastic idea from I Can Teach My Child: pack Birthday Boxes for children in need. So I let my friends know, and we had a little Birthday Box packing party. I bought some supplies, one of my fantastic friends went shopping and bought more, and we all got together to make the boxes. Each box included birthday cake mix and frosting, decorations, a few small toys (crayons, bubbles, etc.), and a handmade card that we left blank for Mom or Dad to fill out. Each box was simply labeled “Birthday Boy”, “Birthday Girl”, or “Birthday Kid”.

Birthday kid

I took these boxes to a local charity organization that provides food and other necessities to those in need, and they put them in the food pantry. When a child they serve has a birthday coming up, the workers will sneak a box to a parent. 🙂

Pile of birthday boxes

If you don’t have time or the ability to throw a little party, you can keep it simple and celebrate like Robyn in the original Birthday Acts of Kindness Challenge. Just go around and do good things. Put a quarter in a coin-operated candy machine for a little kid to find. Buy a gift card for groceries or gasoline and give it to a stranger (or just leave it behind with a note). If you feel a little bit weird about approaching a stranger (or if you want to be sure that the person who receives your act of kindness understands that it is, in fact, for them, no strings attached), that’s why I made these Butterfly effect printable tags for us to use. Just print, cut, and attach. Because if my kid found $1 in the store, we would be sure to return it to management in case someone came back looking for it. But if my kid found $1 with a little note attached, letting me know that this random act of kindness was meant to brighten my day – why, that would just be remarkable. It would brighten my whole week! And I would be sure to pay it forward.

Butterfly Effect

Note: If you’d like to participate in this challenge and are on a tight budget, there are still lots of ways you can participate! Just looking at the Birthday Boxes … I found crayons on sale, and stickers and bubbles on clearance. We made the cards ourselves. I used Shopkick to cash out for a free Target gift card to pay for the bins and the candles (you can read the article I wrote about Shopkick for Today’s The Best Day if you click here). You can ask friends for extra travel supplies leftover from hotels, and ask a dentist for a few toothbrushes, to put together blessing bags. There really are SO many ways you can make a difference, even if your budget is tight.

So this week, let’s celebrate our un-birthdays. Let’s celebrate life. And let’s join together and spread kindness.

(P.S. If you’d like to save these ideas for your actual birthday – awesome! You can pin this to help you remember.)

What are you going to do this week to participate in our kindness challenge? I’d love to hear your ideas and your stories!

CVS Clearance – Bargain Shopper Alert!

If you have a CVS nearby – today is a great time to stop in, if you want to serve on a budget!

At both of the CVS stores near my house, many of their summer-ish dollar items are on clearance for 75% off. And neither store had any kind of signs up, so there was a ton of stuff on the shelves! Everything pictured here was just 25 cents. If you see these items at your store, check them out at the red “price check” machine. (And make sure to scan your CVS card at that machine, too. It prints coupons!!)

25 cent deals at CVS

* The sunglasses, hair accessories, and stickers are all great for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. That’s probably what I’ll use them for. But they are also a great donation item for a local shelter!
* The sandwich sized Ziploc bags are also great for shoeboxes – I always double-bag my candy and my soap, in the hopes of (somewhat) preventing the candy from tasting soapy. The quart-sized bags are perfect for making blessing bags!
* I had a few minutes, so I scanned a lot of the summer items and found about half of them were on clearance. I bought a jump rope for 74 cents, and my son got a fishing game for $1.49. It kept him busy for half an hour. Priceless. 🙂
* If you’re ready to really put on your bargain-shopping brain on, there’s another great deal at CVS this week. If you spend $10 on CVS toothbrushes or toothpaste, you get back $8 in Extra Bucks (which can be turned around and used immediately). So if you are planning on spending some money at CVS anyway, buy some toothbrushes (I stocked up for shoeboxes and blessing bags), get your $8, and then turn around and use that $8 coupon to buy your clearance items! The deal has a limit of 2, so I bought $20 of toothbrushes and got $16 back.

Please feel free to leave any questions for me!

Serving In Our Own Communities

Today, I saw a heartbreaking story online. Have you heard of Humans of New York? It’s a website that is made up of pictures and snippets of stories. A photographer goes around the streets of NYC and asks people questions. And in the few sentences he gives us, we see people’s hopes and dreams, best and worst memories, insecurities, fears, triumphs … it’s fascinating. It’s a fantastic reminder to always be kind to strangers, because we never, ever know what lies beneath the surface.

Right now, Brandon (the photographer) is touring Pakistan, and on my Facebook feed this morning, I saw a sobering picture of a crying woman holding a small child, and this chilling quote: “I left an abusive relationship and I have nowhere to go. I have Hepatitis C, so no one is willing to take me in. I don’t know how long I will live. I tried to give her up for adoption so that she’d have a good home. The wife of a minister told me about a place where I could drop her off. But when I got there, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

Within minutes, there were thousands of people speaking up. “How can I help?” “Is there a GoFundMe page set up for this woman?” “I wish I could do something!!” On and on and on the comments went. And I was right there. I anxiously watched HONY’s Facebook page, hoping that they would post a link that gave me an opportunity to help this woman.

As I waited, I had a thought.

How many people in my own area are faced with problems just like this?

Now one point I’d like to make clear: I have no problem AT ALL with helping people in distant countries. I am passionate about several international aid programs. My family sponsors two young boys in Colombia, and I sponsor a sweet young mother in Kenya. I love these young people I’ve never met. I pray for them. I believe that we should help wherever our heart pulls us, and my heart pulls me to Compassion International and The Mercy House.

But still, the question remained in my mind: how many people in my own area need my help today?

As I’m waiting to see how I might be able to help this woman on the other side of the world, how many people within a few miles of me need help right now?

There’s a women’s shelter in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve taught those wonderful ladies. They need support.

There’s a hospital for low-income families in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve seen the homeless camped nearby. They need support.

New mom care package

There’s a shelter for homeless teens in my area. I’ve been there. I’ve brought donations and toured the facilities and talked to the director. They need support.

There are problems right in my neighborhood. There are people who need me.

There are problems right in your neighborhood. There are people who need you.

So for this week’s service challenge, I want you to choose an area in your community that needs your help. If you’ve been around this site for a while and participated in our service challenges, you know what to do. 🙂 But if you’ve never done anything like this before, don’t be nervous – it’s really simple. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

* If you don’t know where to start, ask around, open the phone book, or just do an internet search for “homeless shelter” or “women’s shelter” or “food pantry” or “animal shelter” and your zipcode. I just did that (I searched “shelter” and my zipcode), and discovered a family shelter that’s only 10 minutes away from my house. (I recently moved – just to the city next door – and I’m discovering new things all the time. I love participating in these service challenges with you – they help me learn so much!)

* When you’ve found a program in your area, call them or see if they have a website. And find out what their greatest needs are! You can do that in a variety of ways … “I have $10 to donate. What do you need today?” “What items do you run out of quickly?” “Are there any items that my friends and I might be able to share with you?” “Do you need volunteers?”

* And then … get to work. 🙂 Bargain shop (for a few budget-stretching tips, check out this post). Show up and volunteer. Gather your friends and have a blessing bag party. Even if you only have 5 minutes right now, that’s enough time to find a local shelter, learn their greatest needs, and share on social media. You can check out this post if you need a little more inspiration.Blessing bag

As I was writing this service challenge, I stopped to re-read our shelter challenge from nearly a year ago. I wanted to share these thoughts with you again.

Once you know what the needs are in your community … well, you won’t need me to tell you what to do after that.

You might realize you have an extra $5 you can donate.

You might pass by a clearance rack at Target and notice an item that’s on your shelter’s “urgent needs” list.

You might realize that you have a few hours you can use to volunteer.

You might grab an extra box of granola bars the next time you’re at the store. Or maybe an extra pack of socks, or a bottle of laundry detergent.

You might decide to take some donations to a shelter for homeless teens, and while you’re there, you might realize for the first time that right in your city, there are teenage girls who are selling their body for food. You might realize that you had absolutely no idea that there were people in your very city who are so absolutely desperate. You might get angry – FURIOUS – that this is the reality for so many. And when your fury subsides a bit, you might realize that you might not be able to fix all of the problems in your community, but you are able to donate a bit of food. And with that bit of food, someone will be able to eat tonight without resorting to desperate measures.

A broken, defeated woman might be able to take a shower tomorrow morning and start to feel a little bit more feminine because you donated a bottle of nice shampoo to the shelter she has fled to.

A man might be able to button up his new-to-him dress shirt (that, as of yesterday, was hanging in your closet) and go off to a job interview, confident that he looks professional and competent.

Tomorrow someone might read your Facebook post … “Hey, local friends – did you realize that we have a women’s shelter that’s at risk of closing because they need more donations? Come on – let’s help!” Or “Did you know that our local animal shelter is going to have to put down three dogs this weekend unless they find homes? Anyone need a new pet?” And your friend might realize, thanks to you, that there is a need that he or she can meet.

Will you join me?

You can give. You can advocate. You can learn and share. And you can make a HUGE difference in the lives of the most vulnerable in your community.

I don’t know what you’re going to do with this week’s challenge.

But I can’t wait to hear.

4 Simple Ways to Help the Homeless

Sometimes for our weekly service challenges, I post things that I love doing and that are in my comfort zone. Thanking firemen … hiding quarters around town … these are things that come very naturally to me.

Other things are a bit more of a stretch. And sometimes, it’s good to stretch.

So this week, I’m reaching outside my comfort zone. I’m facing a problem that sometimes seems too big to face, and I’m inviting you to join me.

This week, we’re helping the homeless.

4 Simple Ways to Help the Homeless

Does this seem a little intimidating to you? Like this is a problem that’s so big, you don’t even know where to start? I understand! But it really doesn’t need to be. Luckily for us, we don’t necessarily need to go out on the streets to find those who need our help. (Although if that’s your thing, awesome!!) Helping the homeless can begin with a simple phone call.

1. Start with your local shelter. If you’re not sure what the needs are in your area, this is a great time to learn! First, locate your closest homeless shelter. (Just do an internet search for “homeless shelter” and your zipcode.) Then give them a call! They’ll be more than happy to give you ideas. Perhaps they need donations, maybe they need volunteers for one of their programs. They’ll definitely be able to give you suggestions to help meet the most pressing needs in your community.
2. Choose a specific need. Homelessness can be an overwhelming issue, so if this is new to you, start by choosing one specific goal that you’d like to help meet. This might mean making blessing bags. It might mean handing out cold water bottles on a hot day. It might mean passing out snacks or gift cards to fast food restaurants. What tugs at your heart? Start there!
3. Advocate. Even if you don’t feel like you have enough resources to be able to make a difference, reach out! This can be as simple as sharing the wish list of your local shelter on Facebook, or as involved as hosting a service party. I LOVED my baby shower for charity, and I’ve had several fun blessing bag parties. Many people are willing to help – you just need to give them the opportunity!

Serving with love
4. Donate. If you have limited time, but you have a few dollars to donate, you can absolutely make a difference today! Again, I’d recommend starting locally and donating to a shelter near your home. But if you’d like a suggestion, I love this cause that I just learned about yesterday. This is a company founded by a veteran. They employ veterans. And they make a high-quality soap that will be donated to those in need in San Francisco. (Remember Lava Mae? I love, love, LOVE what they do. That’s where their soaps are going!) Your donation provides jobs, and it provides dignity. You can check out Maxwell’s Soaps’ fundraising effort here.

Those are my ideas. How are you going to participate in this week’s challenge? As for me, I’ll be making a blessing bag (I’ve given all of mine out – woohoo!), and I’ll make a small donation to Maxwell’s Soaps. I love their vision!

The 4th of July/Thank a Fireman Challenge

It’s Fourth of July weekend! Time for swimming and BBQ, fireworks and parades. So many opportunities for fun, and family, and friends.

And also, unfortunately … several opportunities for danger.

I hope this holiday is nothing but fun and relaxation for you. But … what if something happened to your grill and it started a fire? What if a neighbor set off illegal fireworks and one landed on your roof? Who do you think is working extra hard on July 4th?

Our firemen!

And we’re going to thank them.

Thank a Fireman

Last week, we focused on our police officers. This week, we’re thanking our firemen for their service and their bravery. Because if my house was on fire, they would without a doubt come busting through the door to save me, to save my husband, and to save my children. People they’ve never even met – they’d risk their lives to try to save mine.

So I think it’s about time we meet, don’t you?

Our family’s tradition is to bring treats every 4th of July (and September 11th) to the fire station, but since we just moved, this will be our first time visiting these firemen and I am so excited!

If you’d like to participate in this week’s challenge, here are a few ideas for you:

* Bring a card or a note to your fire station (my kids used this idea to make cards)
* Show up with food (either portable snacks or, if they have a kitchen, ingredients to make a simply but hearty meal). Many of these firemen are volunteers, and many put in long, late hours. When returning from an emergency, exhausted and hungry, how awesome to have all of the stuff on hand to make a filling dinner! That’s what we’re doing this week. (If you’re on a tight budget, here are a few ideas I shared on my cousin’s website for ways I’ve earned extra money to do service projects: Shopkick funds my firemen treats and my blessing bags, and Swagbucks and Ibotta fund my sponsorship of a young mom in Kenya!)
* Bake a treat. Unlike policemen, who tend to be a little more hesitant to eat homemade treats from strangers, firemen are usually more than happy to accept them. 🙂 If you’re unsure about bringing homemade items, give them a call first – they’d be happy to tell you. They might even be thrilled if you ask for requests!
* Bring a gift card to a local restaurant, or just have food delivered! Order a few pizzas, send Chinese food – whatever you have room for in your budget.
* Just show up. Sometimes that’s all you need to do. Just show up and say thank you.

Blog photos 009

Y’all, our firemen … they need to be our heroes.

And this 4th of July … and September 11th … and always …

We need to remember the firemen.photo 5