When Ashland resident Paul Giancarlo and his twin sons set out to collect food from friends and neighbors one afternoon two years ago, they were simply trying to do their part to help support local food pantries.
"Every year, the food bank sends out a brown paper bag, and they ask you to fill it up and turn it in," recalls Giancarlo.
While most agencies work with older kids and teens, young children can learn about volunteering in their communities, too. Here are some suggestions for helping with younger kids.
Grow food for the hungry: Local food banks always accept fresh produce. Grow a row in your garden and donate the harvest.
Foster a homeless pet: For kids big enough to be gentle with small animals, local animal shelters are always in need of families willing to "foster" kittens and puppies too young for adoption.
Donate to charity: Outgrown clothes or unneeded household items can be collected and donated to local thrift shops and shelters on a regular basis, showing kids the importance of helping others.
"They wanted to know what the bag was for, so I started explaining about food banks and hunger — it was ironic we were sitting there eating breakfast. They were fascinated that people wouldn't have enough to eat."
With no idea they would soon start a regional movement, the boys wheeled their red Radio Flyer wagon around their neighborhood collecting donated food. Taking their effort a step farther, they held a drive at school, too.
When a post-holiday article in the newspaper indicated that food pantries often see a drop in donations after holidays have passed, Giancarlo and his boys developed a plan to buy an extra item each week to set aside.
Within months, they coordinated four dozen friends and neighbors to do the same, thus founding Ashland Food Project, which now collects some 27,000 pounds of food from more than 3,500 households every two months. Two years later, the effort has spread to Medford and Talent.
"There are a lot of simple ways to get kids involved and help them understand they are making an impact on their community," he notes.
"That's what I wanted to show my sons, and look what it turned into."
At a time when communities have increased need, many agencies in the Rogue Valley are thrilled to have volunteer forces of all ages.
Some agencies have age requirements while others simply require parents to register and work alongside their children. Regardless of age limits, most families with kids old enough — and the desire to be involved — can find projects in which families are able to work together.
Some possibilities for kids, teens and families who want to volunteer in the Rogue Valley are listed below:
Feed the hungry
"Food Projects" in Medford, Ashland and Talent allow residents to sign up as neighborhood coordinators, picking up food once every two months.
Helping with animals
Three local agencies welcome parent-child volunteer teams.
The Southern Oregon Humane Society uses volunteers for various aspects of animal care from grooming to socialization. The facility is located at 2910 Table Rock Road, Medford. For details, see www.southernoregonhumane.org or call 541-779-3215.
Sanctuary One, a nonprofit animal sanctuary on 55 acres at Double Oak Farm in the Applegate Valley, recruits volunteers to help with tasks ranging from socializing and grooming its menagerie of rescued domestic animals to yard and garden chores or help with special projects. For details, see www.sanctuaryone.org or call 541-899-8627.
Committed Alliance to Strays, a Medford cat shelter that specializes in finding homes for stray cats, takes volunteers as young as 12. Volunteers are needed to help with cleaning, grooming and socializing the cats. See www.kittensandcats.org for volunteer options.
Help the town
The historic Eastwood Cemetery, off Medford's Siskiyou Boulevard, always is in need of groups to help with general cleanup. Other opportunities in the city range from helping in local parks to volunteering for specific events.
For possibilities, call City of Medford Parks and Recreation volunteer coordinator Bev Power at 541-774-2400.
In addition, most cities have annual cleanup efforts each spring. Call your local city hall to sign up. If an event isn't planned, sign up to "adopt a street" in your community and encourage neighbors to help out.
Working in nature
Most community parks and waterways need a helping hand. Local newspapers advertise projects year-round that need willing workers to pick up trash, weed and mow.
SOLV, a nonprofit that coordinates projects in more than 250 communities in Oregon, works with individual volunteers, service and conservation groups, businesses and government agencies on projects to restore natural spaces and provide educational opportunities to encourage environmental stewardship.
For a list of projects, many of which are appropriate for kids and parents to do together, see www.solv.org/volunteers/volunteer_calendar.asp