For many people, the definition of “family” extends far beyond immutable factors like biology, genes, and history. Instead, family is defined through intentions and actions. Families grow beyond blood relations to include dear friends and cherished neighbors who seek to connect, serve, and uplift. Community is seen as an extension of family and these people do their best to support their “distant relations” during times of need.
If some of these qualities we’re describing remind you of your own kin, then you and your loved ones are ideal candidates for volunteering as a family! Teaming up to volunteer at your local food bank or food pantry is a great way for families to strengthen their bonds, teach valuable lessons to younger family members, and even experience mental and physical health benefits.
Volunteering with youth
Many families value volunteering because it’s a great way to teach children about the importance of principles like community service and social justice, and help them become more connected to their respective communities.
By being asked to expend effort on helping others, kids learn valuable lessons about empathy that can help them grow into compassionate, caring adults. They also gain an understanding of factors like socioeconomic status that can help broaden their worldview and allow them to communicate more easily with people from different backgrounds.
Volunteering can also be a great way to instill valuable job skills in youth of all ages. Family volunteering is a great way to help younger kids absorb principles like hard work, persistence, and discipline, while older kids can pick up occupational skills and make connections that will serve them well as they begin their careers.
Here’s the kicker: Volunteering with young family members is also statistically associated with better mental and physical health in children and teenagers. According to a public health research letter published in JAMA Open Network, youth who participated in community service experienced a number of benefits compared to their non-volunteering peers. These volunteers were 35% less likely to have behavioral or anxiety problems, 34% more likely to be in excellent or very good overall health, and 66% more likely to be “flourishing,” which the study defined as a holistic measure of wellbeing.
Every Food Bank of the Rockies distribution center – in Denver, Grand Junction, and Casper – welcomes families to volunteer together with open arms. At the Grand Junction and Casper locations we even offer special Family Volunteer Nights for which there is no age limit! The wider the range of age diversity we can incorporate, the better. Aside from those special nights, our regular requirements are that any Food Bank of the Rockies volunteer be at least 10 years old. Additionally, any volunteers under 16 years old must be accompanied by an adult and volunteers in the kitchen must be 18 years old or older.
That said, please make sure to check with the food bank or food pantry that you’re hoping to volunteer at as a family to make sure that they have volunteer opportunities for children. Many of these organizations will have minimum age requirements for volunteers based on the physical and organizational demands of their work, so it’s best to contact the organization with any questions you might have about volunteering as a family in advance.
Volunteering with older adult family members
On the other end of the age spectrum, volunteering with older adult family members can also be beneficial for families and the older adults themselves.
Bringing your older adult family member along for volunteering opportunities at your local food bank can be a great way to keep them active and invested in their communities. Older adults have a wealth of life experience and expertise that can provide learning opportunities for the aforementioned youth volunteers, reinforcing lessons and creating cross-generational connections.
Research has also shown that volunteering with older adult family members is also good for their mental and physical health. A Carnegie Mellon University study found that older adults who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure, a major risk factor associated with heart attacks and strokes. Older adult volunteers also experience the same mental health benefits associated with their community service that we outline in our article 4 Benefits of Volunteering, including improved mood and self-esteem and lowered anxiety levels.
Just like when you set up volunteer opportunities with youth, it’s wise to double-check with the food bank or pantry that you plan to volunteer with to make sure that your older adult family members can fulfill the standard volunteer shift requirements. For instance, many (but not all) of our volunteer opportunities at Food Bank of the Rockies require the ability to move freely, stand, walk for long periods of time, bend, reach, and lift up to 30 pounds. If your older family member needs an accommodation, we’ll be happy to work with you to include them, just reach out to your assigned volunteer coordinator.
Whether you’re planning on volunteering with your children, parents and grandparents, or all of the above, we at Food Bank of the Rockies deeply appreciate your gift of time. Thank you for making a difference, both in your own household and your community.