Giving Back: Every Little Bit Counts

by Abby on February 24, 2012

The smallest good deed is better than the grandest good intention.

I went to a Catholic high school that had a yearly community service requirement. I dreaded it, not because I didn’t like helping people, but because I was shy. I couldn’t think of anything worse than having to make eye contact with elderly people or serve food at a soup kitchen. So I “cheated” and counted volunteering in the church nursery towards my hours, or sorting clothes for Goodwill.

In college I volunteered a few times to read to children in low-income housing projects mostly because I missed being around kids and needed a break from the rarified atmosphere of my private college campus. After graduation, living in a new city where I knew almost no one, I joined a volunteer group that fixed up urban schools, among other things. I’m not gonna lie: I did it because of a boy. While the relationship didn’t last, my involvement with the volunteer group did. It’s where I met some of my best friends to this day.

As my career grew more demanding and then I got married and had kids, I had less time to volunteer. And as my volunteering decreased, my guilt grew. I’ve said I didn’t used to feel guilty about not volunteering at my son’s preschool. But now that son is in kindergarten at an urban public school. I get about 5 emails a day soliciting volunteers for something or other, and the fundraisers are ongoing. I have volunteered here and there, but I feel guilty I don’t do more.

With another kid at home and no family in the area, not to mention being self-employed, I can’t justify paying a sitter so I can do volunteer work. But I do think it’s important to give back and to help other people. So I’ve made my peace for now with what I’m calling “micro-volunteering.”

We donate old clothes and baby items to various charities. We buy the wrapping paper and sponsor the fun runs when we can. We collect canned goods and school supplies. My 5yo loves to point out the Box Tops on our cereal, and he’s collecting coins around the house for a cancer charity. Sometimes it’s even as small as making banana bread for a new mom or passing along coupons for items I don’t use but know someone who does, like pricey soy baby formula.

I’m not at the point anymore where I can spend an entire weekend painting schools or fixing up parks. I can’t even commit to a regular volunteer slot at my kids’ schools. But I’m doing what I can for now. And I do believe that every little bit helps.

LINK O’ THE DAY: Some of those friends I mentioned have gone on to start their own charities, such as the Stroup Kids for Kids Epilepsy Foundation, which hosts popular national indoor triathlons around the country that raise thousands of dollars a year for epilepsy research. If you’re the sporty sort, find out if there’s one in your area.

READ O’ THE DAY: I found this article reassuring: “Classroom Volunteering: Evolution of the Judgmental Mother.” Right now I’m in the clipping Box Tops stage, but someday I might organize a book drive or a bake sale, who knows?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Ali/Alessa February 24, 2012 at 7:32 am

I think you should give yourself a break. The Catholic religion is often mocked for its excessive allotment of guilt onto its followers (spoken by a former Catholic).

I do like the quote at the beginning of your post.


Abby February 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

I’m not even Catholic! Despite where I went to h.s. All my guilt is self-induced.


Ali/Alessa February 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

You do more than most. Give yourself a pat on the back.


Kris-Ann Race February 24, 2012 at 9:48 am

Great post. I think it’s something socially conscious parents struggle with. As the parent of a child with medical and other needs it’s hard to find the time, but it is also hard to decide where to concentrate our efforts. Right now, while our kids are young we try to teach them why it’s good to donate things we don’t need etc. and hope to expand that once they are older.


Kathleen Basi February 24, 2012 at 10:00 am

This is just how I feel…plus a couple kids. 🙂 I tell everyone that my kids come with me, because while I don’t mind volunteering, I object to paying for the privilege of volunteering. More often than not they tell me to wait and put in my time when my kids are older. :/


Abby February 24, 2012 at 10:02 am

I would love to chaperone an upcoming kindergarten field trip, but siblings aren’t welcome. I understand why, but that rules me out. It’s disappointing.


jetts31 February 24, 2012 at 10:30 am

We are in the midst of collecting box tops right now. I volunteered for Meals on Wheels in high school.
I feel the same way now as you do, I wish I could do more but life seems to take over and put the volunteering on the back burner. I love the “micro-volunteering” though. We do the clothing and my wife does a lot at the kids school.
Every little bit helps. Even if the little bit is done a little bit at a time.


Lou Mello February 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Love the quote that leads your post, it isn’t how big or how small, it’s the fact that we do something. I do what I can and sometimes it’s time, sometimes money, sometimes just reaching out to others to get involved; it all helps.


Tina Stroup February 24, 2012 at 4:26 pm

THANKS for the Shout Out Ab about Tri To Help! I know Chris is coming this weekend. Miss you guys!



Holly February 26, 2012 at 9:21 am

I used to struggle with this also but now I have come to the conclusion that there is a time and season for volunteering in certain areas. Like you mentioned above, there are some areas of volunteering you can do pretty much all the time like collecting box tops. But full out in the classroom volunteering? Or being the homeroom mom? That’s the sort of thing they shouldn’t even be asking a mom with babies at home to do in my opinion. Of course there are a lot of moms that are awesome multitaskers and can handle it but I am not one of them! I also work from home and I find that confuses people in the school. They know I am at home but they don’t seem to get always that I’m actually working. I used to feel guilty but now I realize that there is no reason to. There will come a time when my kids will be older and I have the time. Until then it’s ok to claim my spot in life as it is and say no.


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