Teaching Our Children to Give, to Please Give

The other night I watched a movie called Please Give by one of my favorite filmmakers, Nicole Holofcener.  Made in 2010, it’s about a husband and wife who butts heads with the granddaughters of the elderly woman who lives in an apartment they own next door.  It’s one of those slice-of-life films that I could completely relate to after living in NYC for nearly ten years before moving to the suburbs. It brought back vivid memories of living in Manhattan.

But I connected with the movie on a different level.  In the film, Kate, played by the extremely relatable Catherine Keener, gives money to every homeless person she sees on the street of NYC, and her teenage daughter always gives her a look of “puh-lease!”  At one point, Kate hands a homeless person $20 and her daughter goes nuts and grabs it from the man, pointing out, “You never give me $20!  He can’t have it if I can’t!” Kate is dismayed and hands the man a $5 bill because she has nothing else to give him.

Why am I telling you about the film? I am Kate. I’ve always had a penchant for the homeless and even when I was a lowly assistant making 23K at my first job in NYC, I always dug my hand deep in my pocket to give to the homeless.  I may not have let them shower in my apartment like Kate (which equally unnerved her daughter), but I certainly gave money to help them survive.

Fast forward to now.  There are not as many homeless people on the streets of NYC, but there are enough that my daughter has seen me dip my hands into my pocket several times.  From a very young age, I had her in the center of a room at the local old age home entertaining the elderly.  We spent the first few years of her life in that room, and I will bet you that although she may not remember the experience when she is older, it will impact the choices she makes.  Every Thanksgiving, my children and I deliver meals to the elderly in the Bronx and we also help distribute food in our local pantry that feeds those who cannot afford to buy nutritious meals for their families.

That particular experience was remarkable.  We headed to a local food pantry led by The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Hunger Task Force.  Twice a month they collect over 7,500 items of food. Some of it is donated through local food drives, and the rest is purchased from The Food Bank for Westchester, and from a food wholesaler.  Then they sort it before distributing to hundreds of local families who need it most, including homebound seniors.

Of course, my children complained all the way to the pantry, but when they were put to work to sort the 20 boxes of cereal that we had brought with us, they were cooperative and clearly developed an understanding about local hunger, however basic it was.  When they were done, they begged to know when we would be going back.

The trick is to plant a seed now and involve your kids in an act of charity with the hope of teaching them that it’s possible to make a difference and impact lives.  As my daughter gets older, she may be likely to be like Kate in the film.  I’m working on it.  At least she won’t judge her mom.

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