The other day, as he caught sight of someone in tattered clothes, sitting on the sidewalk in the cold, he said, "I know being empathetic is a good thing, but the problem with it is that I feel sad every time I see someone who is homeless."
It's true. He has a genuinely hard time walking past someone living on the streets without being taken over by an overwhelming urge to help.
Before I knew it, there was a plan to create care packages to deliver to people living on the streets of our city, Toronto, Canada . He was consistently persistent, asking me daily when we'd be picking up the items to prepare the packages. When we finally had some time, he was nearly giddy with excitement. We'd done some light research into the most useful and welcomed items, and hit the stores. Here's what we picked up:
- Individually packaged, easy-to-chew snacks, ideally with some protein
- Thick Socks
- Winter hats
- Warm Gloves
- Toothbrush, case, and toothpaste
- Tickets/tokens for public transit
- Bottled water
- Wet wipes
- lip balm and hand lotion
- Giant, zippered freezer bags to pack everything in
- *Extras as needed: tampons/pads, dog food/treats
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We came home and stuffed the freezer bags full, then loaded up the care packages into our car, picked up a friend and her son who wanted to help hand them out, and headed downtown.
As we drove, the boys kept their eyes peeled for potential care package recipients: people sitting amidst a pile of their belongings, shivering in doorways. When we found someone, I'd pull the car over, the boys would hop out along with my friend, who stayed back and let them do the talking.
It was December 31st, New Year's Eve day, so the boys, grinning, said, "Happy New Year" to each person they handed a care package to.
Honestly, the looks on the faces of the recipients with these two sweet smiling boys was enough to bring anyone to tears. As my son climbed back into the car after handing out his first package, he said 'that felt really really good.'
Now, almost a year later, he still talks about certain individuals he met, wondering if we'll see them again on our delivery rounds this year.
We had our first cold snap last week, and the first thing he thought of was the people "who don't have a warm place to sleep at night." He asked if we could start his care package project sooner and keep it going continuously over the winter. Even though I immediately said 'of course' because I want to nurture this amazing quality in him, I had to let him know that we could keep it going as long as it was sustainable financially on our limited single-parent household budget.
What started off as a tentative Facebook post to tell people about his project quickly turned into a Go Fund Me campaign at the suggestion of friends. Within just two days, dozens of people had donated. We met our original target and had supplies dropped off at our house. We were completely blown away. We received envelopes full of coins with notes about children emptying their piggy banks to donate, and comments from adults saying that this initiative made them "feel warm inside."
My son cannot believe how much people want to help out, and he is beyond thrilled. We've decided to keep the Go Fund Me campaign open so that we can buy the warmer (pricier) socks and gloves, gift cards for food, and help more people. We can't wait to deliver this year's packages.
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When my son first came up with this idea to help people, we talked about different ways to do that, including volunteering at food backs, shelters, donating to charities, and sponsoring refugee families. He loves this project, though, because he wants to actively participate: the shopping and picking out each item based on what he thinks will be most useful and appreciated, building the packages, and talking to people on the receiving end.
I've had so many people say that I must be doing something right as a parent, but I need to be straight-up honest and set the record straight: I cannot take any credit for this initiative because none of it was me. This was entirely and exclusively my son. He came up with the idea and pushed me to make it happen. The truth is, he is the one teaching me, giving me opportunities to grow, challenge my privilege, and take care of our fellow humans.
If I'm doing anything right as a parent at all (always up for debate, incidentally), it's just stepping back and giving my son space to be who he is, and to let his star shine.