Family Service Ideas to Give Back and Pay It Forward

by Katelyn Fagan on February 12, 2016

Last week I was doing my regular weekly grocery shopping trip, which meant it was during the day and with all four of my children, as we are homeschooling the oldest two for kindergarten. It was a pretty uneventful trip if I remember correctly. The kids were even fairly well behaved. But, when I got up to the register, I received a very nice surprise: the cashier informed me that the lady ahead of me had left a $25 gift card for me to use on my groceries!

I easily remembered what this lady looked like - she was young, had short blond hair, and was sporting workout apparel that left her forearms bare allowing me to admire her very impressive biceps. I had time to notice her because we happened to be standing in line for quite awhile that day. But, the woman hadn't said anything to me. No comment about my hands being full, or asking my children how old they were, or anything. Yet, she quietly asked the cashier to help her pay it forward to us. 

Her kind gesture meant we left the store with a lower grocery bill than normal that day. In a previous time in our married life, that $25 would have meant everything. Everything.

There have been so many times in my married life that we've received acts of service. My husband and I married young, while still in college, and immediately had not one, but two babies upon graduation.

Six weeks after their birth we moved across the country and in with my in-laws for two month because we were in debt, unemployed, and struggling to feed ourselves and pay the rent. My husband found employment for two years working at an inner-city private Catholic High School on the east side of Indianapolis. The pay was very low. I stayed home with our twins because daycare costs would have been ridiculous and we only had one vehicle anyway. 

We struggled to pay all our bills every month, but were doing our best to make the most of things, but then my husband was in a car accident that broke his sternum, totaled our one vehicle, and left him unable to work for at least two months. During that time I also suffered a miscarriage. So, in case things weren't tight and difficult already, we now had medical bills to pay, a car payment we couldn't afford, and even more mounting credit card debt.

Yes, in a different time in our life, a gift of $25 toward food would have meant everything.

In fact, only a week or two after my husband's car accident, four years ago, a different woman did something very similar - she paid for our entire Walmart bill of about $80. And it did mean everything to us. She was unaware of the hard time we were going through at that moment. But, for some reason, she chose to bless us, and we will forever be grateful for it. 

That's the thing about serving others - you don't know how one small act, one gift of $25 or $80, can bless another's life. You don't know what a gift of cookies left on a doorstep, or even someone holding open a door, can make in someone else's life, until you just do it. 

Today our family isn't struggling financially. We have been blessed tremendously from the Lord through that terrible car accident to be credit card debt free and own two vehicles outright. Because of this blog, we are able to pay for my husband's doctorate tuition, aggressively pay off my student loan debts, and put money away in savings. We are no longer in a season of receiving.

We are no longer living paycheck to paycheck, wondering how we'll manage to pay all our bills. And now our family wants to spread the love. We want to pay it forward. We want to give service.

The Season of Giving Back (as a Family)

My husband and I try hard to look for opportunities to serve other people. My husband is especially good at this. He'll help people on the side of the road, give food or money to homeless individuals, give people a lift, or help push someone out of a snow bank.

As parents of young children, it can be difficult to give back to your community, to friends, to neighbors, to your church, because young children can't always physically or emotionally able to help.

But, we involve our children in service anyway, and do from a very young age, even when it is labor intensive.

Our children are young at 5, 5, 2, and 6 months, but when we are presented with the chance to do service, we most often include our children in the process. We believe instilling the value of service in our children helps combat ingratitude, selfishness, and entitlement.

Family Service Ideas

When our twins were only 17 months old we took them with us to participate in a Mormon Helping Hands service project, removing brush, garbage, and invasive plants from a park in Hamilton County, Indiana.

When our twins were three years old, and my son almost 3 months old (I wore him in a carrier), they participated in a church youth service project I organized picking up litter and trash from the side of a road near my home. 

We've had our twins pick out toys and clothes they no longer wanted or needed to donate to charities or organizations.

From about three years old and on, we have taken our twins (and younger children) with us to help move someone in or out of their home. Just this last weekend we helped some friends, who lived on the third floor (of course) move all of their stuff into a POD, as they are moving on to a new stage in their life, in a new city.


We have found our children are very capable and willing to help move people. I am blown away every time by their eagerness to help, even when they are small and can only carry smaller items, and even when we are there for well over an hour.

Our local homeschool group recently put together some service opportunities, one being some litter cleanup at a local park, and another to make Fleece Blankets to donate to Project Linus. We weren't able to attend the group meetup to do the blankets, but we ended up doing them ourselves at home. We had fun picking out the fabric at the store and working together to fringe the edges.

I explained what that these blankets would be donated to children who are in need, to help provide them with a sense of security and warmth. Many of these blankets go to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need of blankets. It's great timing too because National Make a Blanket Day is February 20.

At the end of March our church is doing a Humanitarian service project in partnership with Sole Hope - and we need to start collecting thin plastic, like washed out milk jugs or laundry detergent bottles, to use as part of the shoes we will be making for the people of Uganda, Africa. I have started collecting the bottles, and again explaining to my children why I am not putting them out in the recycling for the next few weeks.

Four years ago, for Valentine's, we were given an anonymous gift of everyday household and toiletry supplies for our family, which we loved! We decided that we, too, could do that for families we know who may need a little breathing room in their budget right now, and put together little gift baskets for them.

In our totes we are including:

  • Laundry Detergent
  • Toilet Paper
  • Diapers
  • Toothbrushes (for the kids)
  • Toothpaste
  • Sanitizing Wipes
  • Paper Towels
  • Gallon of Tampico Fruit Punch
  • Heart-shaped box of chocolates
  • Lotion
  • Shampoo
  • Floss
  • Body Wash
  • Facial Tissue
  • Deodorant (Mens)

Many of these items we already had extra on hand due to some stockpiling and blog sponsors. A few things we picked up extra from the store, like the storage tote itself.

With Valentine's Day this Sunday, and Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, I can't help but think about charity, about love, about service, especially after this woman (who I got to thank later because she apparently works out at the same gym I do), reminded me with her $25 gift that I, too, am in a season of abundance, and need to start giving of it more freely. 

The benefits of giving, and expressing love through service, puts smiles on our faces and warmth in our hearts, knowing that our efforts are making a difference, no matter how small they may seem. We are creating the best kind of colorful moments that make our family life more meaningful. Giving service helps my children understand other people, look outside of themselves, and be more grateful for what they already have. It makes me more grateful too.

I thank Tampico Beverages for sponsoring this conversation today. Like them, I believe creating colorful moments make family life more meaningful, and nothing adds more color, more joy, more love, than giving and serving others. Their colorful fruit-flavored drinks help color the world with love. #LoveTampico

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