Pragmatic Mom

January 16, 2010

Haiti and Teaching My Kids About Charity

A mom in my yoga class made a nice plea for donations yesterday.  Her cleaning lady is Haitian and her family in Haiti is, of course, personally devastated by the earthquake.  Yoga mom offered to run over and pick up any clothing and shoe donations from any of us and ship to Haiti.  She said that UPS was shipping free of charge for a while so she was rounding up donations all week.

I’ve been struggling with how to teach the concept of charity to my children.  We delivered a Thanksgiving meal this year, for the first time, to someone who needed it, and it was a really wonderful experience for us to appreciate all that we have.  I know I could be heartfelt at the dinner table that night to count our blessings.  My older girls seemed to get it and enjoy helping, but my 5-year-old boy mostly provided entertainment by zipping around their house and asking endless questions.  They didn’t seem to mind but I think he thought of this as a kind of adult playdate.  But his preschool has a Giving Tree each year and they ask us to teach our children by buying an item — this year shoes — and putting it on the tree.  Because the item must be new and money is an abstract idea to my son, I’ve never been quite comfortable with this.  I mean,  what does it mean for me to buy a pair of shoes and have him hang it?  Or take him to a store to pick out a pair of shoes to give and maybe experience a public meltdown if I don’t buy a matching pair for him (which he doesn’t need).  That doesn’t really work for me.  And why does the item HAVE to be new; if someone is really in need, why can’t gently used be ok?

So, my husband and I have been inundated with news of Haiti like everyone, and feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing.  We decided to talk to the kids to say that there is a this country that needs help because everyone has lost their home and everything in it.  If each person can take a brown paper grocery bag and fill it with clothes and shoes they don’t need or like, we can help a family just like us with our things.  The oldest who has a generous and sensitive heart had her bag filled in minutes.  The middle, who is our Material Girl, said that she had previously cleaned out her closet a few months ago to give stuff to her little cousin which is true.    She didn’t think she had any more to give.  I had to sweeten the deal by saying that I will take her shopping for a new shirt or two if she can clean out again.  The youngest took his bag and said that he could make it into clothes.  He did, just like the Paper Bag Princess, and wore it over his pajamas.  He went to his room to get started but  Prehistorica books on the top of his dresser distracted him and he started playing with then instead by having the pop-up dinosaurs battle the pop-up sea creatures.  Meanwhile, my Material Girl, was on her third bag. He did end up donating a bag of shoes and clothes because my husband and I cleaned out his room, but as we were loading the car, he tried to do a rescue mission for a pair of shoes that don’t even fit him.  Hmmm… he did not get it at all.  Material Girl was generous but had to be bribed; not sure if this was the lesson I wanted to teach.  Oh well!

We did have five full bags of  clothes, shoes and light jackets.  We had been holding on to some things for sentimental reasons … 3 matching light rain coats for mommy and kids, hand-knit sweaters, etc.  It was a good excuse to purge and purge hard and it felt really good to give.  We dropped off the stuff and received a really nice note from Yoga Mom who said that today her cleaning lady came and that she cried, moved by the generosity,  when she saw the 5 bags.  And yet, it really was nothing to us.

That Giving Tree will be up all month.  Every year I struggle with it … I want to help as much as the next person, but it never felt quite right.  I think I am right that 2-, 3-, and even 5-year-olds have difficulty relating to an abstract concept as charity.  This is after all, the years, when it is ALL ABOUT ME, ME, ME.   And having mom hand over money to buy something doesn’t reinforce the right message; in fact, it’s the wrong message:  Mom is a bank.  If my son had his own money to buy the shoes that would work for me.  But he’s struggling to dress himself every morning to earn a dollar  so that after 15 days he can buy that Ultimate Spy Watch he spied on my blog.  And so, maybe we expect too much, too early.   Maybe a child should be able to consistently dress themselves every morning before we expect him or her to understand what giving truly is.  I ask you, readers, what do you think?  What is the right age to teach charity and how did you do it?

And for anyone who heard about the wildly successful  text campaign to give $  to Haiti, I found the information at the Boston College Bookstore today.  To donate $10 to the American Red Cross towards relief for Haiti:

Text:  Haiti

Input:  90999

Here is a short-list, by no means exhaustive, of 4 organizations that are accepting donations; all of these groups have long-established development projects on the ground in Haiti.

Partners In Health

Partners In Health (, has been operating in the country since 1987, originally to deliver health care to the residents of Haiti’s mountainous Central Plateau region. PIH now also operates clinics in Port au Prince and other major Haitian cities. With hospitals and a highly trained medical staff in place,Partners In Health is already mobilizing resources and preparing plans to bring medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. Donations to help earthquake relief efforts will be quickly routed to the disaster.


MADRE ( has also worked in Haiti for many years, supporting community-based organizations, and has activated an emergency response through its partner organization, Zanmi Lasante Clinic. The doctors, nurses and community health workers there are working to bring medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. MADRE’s partners are expert at reaching those in crisis and stretching resources to meet the myriad needs facing Haitian women and families.

Doctors Without Borders

Teams from the group Doctors Without Borders ( were already working on medical projects in Haiti and have been treating victims of the quake since yesterday. Gifts to to the group’s new Haiti Earthquake Response (link below) will support emergency medical care for the men, women, and children affected by the earthquake in Haiti.


Despite heavy damages to its own offices in Port-au- Prince, the UN relief organization UNICEF is coordinating donations of things like blankets, toothpaste, canned food and other basic staples. Call 1-800-4UNICEF or go to for information.

1 Comment »

  1. I have grappled with the issue of teaching charity/humanity to my children. I even created a character named Chi Chi Kaya, she is a little girl who does have the all of the wonderful things that my daughter is blessed with. Chi Chi Kaya comes in handy when I request that we donate a new unopened toy we may have received for a birthday or holiday. My children get so much both new and used. I try to donate things new whenever we can. As for Haiti, I talked to my daughter about earthquakes and what happens to the earth when it shakes. I asked her what she would need is she were to lose her home and favorite things. I also let her know that we would donate money to help families replace some of the things they have lost. My goal is to keep the spirit of giving alive in our home.

    Some book suggestions for kids about humanitarianism would be nice…

    Comment by baby pistachio — February 1, 2010 @ 4:08 pm | Reply

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