Show Veterans You Care
Students can make greeting cards—pinned to a specific holiday or just because—to mail to a local veterans hospital. For example, at the K-5 Ritchie Elementary in Wheeling, W.Va., the kids created and decorated more than 250 cards for Valentine’s Day, which were sent to a VA hospital in nearby Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Pioneer Heritage Middle School PTO in Frisco transformed the school for a weeklong celebration of military heroes. Veterans Week combined lessons in civics—flag-folding ceremonies, learning about the American flag, and others—with community service. Students raised money for a local memorial and wrote thank-you notes that were given to veterans.
Clean Up the Community
Work with other local organizations to collect trash at a beach, park, or other public site—partnering with a local wildlife organization allows kids to do good while they learn. Whether it’s protecting nesting sites or cleaning up habitats, the hands-on experience will make the subject matter fascinating.
Families at WISH Charter Elementary in Los Angeles collected pledges before their cleanup day at a beach; a portion of the funds raised was donated to Heal the Bay, the organization that arranged the cleanup day.
Run a Coin Drive
Coin drives are fast and easy to set up, and there are lots of fun incentives to create excitement. For example, put teachers’ photos on the collection containers, and whoever gets the most “votes” (either number of coins or total value) has to dress up—as Santa Claus at Christmas, as a turkey at Thanksgiving, as Lincoln for Presidents Day, or as a popular children’s book character at any time of year.
Take Care of Patients at a Children’s Hospital
Choose an age-appropriate craft or collection activity, then have students deliver the gifts in person to the hospitalized children along with handmade cards. Ideas include knitting hats, collecting new stuffed animals, and putting together “activity bags” with puzzles and games.
Arrange a Clothing Swap
Ask parents to clean out their kids’ closets and donate school clothes that no longer fit, then allow participating families to choose what they need from among the rest of the donated items. When the Lakeland Village School PTA in Lake Elsinore, Calif., did this, it called it “Swap ’Til You Drop” and opened participation to all schools in the district. Clothes were sorted by size, making it easy for families to find what they need without spending a dime.
If there's a need, allow students to select donated clothing more often. The West Kingston (R.I.) Elementary PTO helped a teacher convert a closet into a place where students can find donated clothes, shoes, coats, and even backpacks any day school is in session.
Take Care of Families in the Community
Give students a chance to see how small gestures can mean so much. Collect toiletries to give to homeless shelters or shelters for victims of domestic violence, or arrange a field trip to a food pantry or soup kitchen. Students can help create meal packages to serve or deliver to those in need.
The St. Anne School Home & School Association in Barrington, Ill., ran Operation Warm & Fuzzy for more than a decade each December. Students would bring in warm one-piece zip-up pajamas and small, Beanie Baby-size stuffed animals. The items would be sorted and distributed to local women’s and children’s shelters.
Spice Up Your Canned Goods Drive
A little creativity with incentives can lead to collecting more canned goods. Franklin Elementary in Kent, Ohio, did “Can the Principal”—items were stacked in front of the main door to his office, with a goal of walling it in completely. At Cold Harbor Elementary in Mechanicsville, Va., the PTA held a Thanksgiving Turkey Court dinner to end its food drive; the class that collected the most canned goods got to see its teacher crowned Turkey Queen or King. Other fun incentives include giving spiritwear to contributing students and awarding book fair funds to top-collecting classes.
The PTO at Mason-Rice Elementary in Newton, Mass., has an amazing knack for mobilizing school families. In part this is because of a program called Kids Take Action, which focuses on hunger, endangered animals, and green initiatives. Among other efforts, students have volunteered at a farm whose entire harvest is donated to homeless shelters and food pantries.
Adopt a Sister School
Many of these ideas can be applied to a sister school relationship. Ask your district or state education office whether your school can be matched up with a needier one. Collections can be taken up for items such as books for the library or for students to take home, toiletries, school supplies, toys and games to use in the classroom or to send home during the winter holidays, and clothing (especially warm clothes and outerwear for winter). Coin drives can be converted to gift cards or straight cash donations to put to good use at the school. Kids can also make birthday cards and valentines to send to students at the sister school.