Giving Back Together

Creating tomorrow’s volunteers by serving as a family todayby jennifer molk

          From sitting down to enjoy the time-honored turkey dinner complete with stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce or relaxing in front of the late afternoon football game that is most fondly remembered, tradition is what brings families together who live miles apart. It is what binds blended families together to “make it work,” even for just that day. And it is what children grow up with and carry on through adulthood to their own holiday celebrations.

      One activity that is becoming more and more customary during the holiday season is giving back to those less fortunate. Over 60 million people volunteered last year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In Billings, there are many agencies that not only invite and encourage volunteerism but desperately need it.

      The Montana Rescue Mission serves nearly 700 meals per day, free of charge. That includes approximately 300 sandwiches five nights each week that are delivered to area neighborhoods from their Mobile Outreach Van. Patti Yonts, Volunteer Coordinator with Montana Rescue Mission in Billings said that while they’re staffed well enough now with adults to serve Thanksgiving Day dinner, “there are plenty of things for whole families, including children, to help with right from their own kitchen.”

      Her organization’s greatest and most kid-friendly need is making simple sandwiches. “Meat and cheese, or peanut butter and jelly,” she suggested. “Sit down at the table with your kids, put little food service gloves on them, and make sandwiches. Make 5 or 50; make 100, whatever you feel like making. Bring them down to the Mission during meal times. Then there’s that connection that will stay with them; it makes an impact.”

      While little fingers are busy at home hand-dipping ornaments into glitter or cutting out holiday cards for relatives, Ms. Yonts suggested kids can also do the following for those needing a little extra help:

    • Bake cookies and place two in a plastic baggie. Yonts said, “Those go out on the Mobile Outreach van. We don’t always have goodies, so the kids we serve really like that.” Any kind of goodie, whether a cookie or brownie will work.

    • Include apples or oranges. It’s an inexpensive and nutritious treat for someone who may be otherwise unable to afford fresh produce.

• Color brown paper bags. Buy the large-size brown sandwich bags and have the kids color them.

    • Make placemats. Let the kids draw on them. Take them to the Mission and have the kids place them in front of the people who will eat what they prepared.

     Ms. Yonts said, “Make it a family thing. The most important thing is having the parent volunteer with the kids because then they see that mom and dad are doing this. Kids will always remember that. If you get them volunteering young, they will be our adult volunteers.”

      Sheryl Shandy, Executive Director for the Billings Food Bank, agreed that it can be fun for kids to help out. Her kid-friendly suggestions included putting together holiday food boxes and delivering them with mom and dad to elders who are shut in during the colder months. “Have them pick out the food at the store.” She said the need for food is relatable to everybody. “Everybody can understand hunger. Everybody can identify with hunger. We all know that feeling: anybody who’s not home in time for dinner, for example, knows what it’s like to be hungry.”

     Ms. Shandy suggested the following for her organization:

    • Put together holiday boxes. Have kids color festive designs on the boxes. (see sidbar on page 9 for shopping list).

• Help sort food at the Food Bank.

    • Start a food drive. “Kids can start a food drive in their  school or church, or club or organization. We’ll help them get started,” Ms. Shandy offered.

• Adopt a family.

      “It is essential families get their kids involved and let them be part of the decision-making process of what they’re going to do with their donation,” Ms. Shandy said. “It’s proven itself… we’re on the third generation of some of our supporters and volunteers. We’ve had the grandparents and the parents and now the kids. It’s essential to keep that heritage going. Volunteering is not only a feel-good feeling for folks to be able to volunteer and to use their time usefully; it’s a tremendous gift.”


Jennifer Molk is a freelance writer in Billings.  She enjoys writing about topics and issues she herself seeks the answers to. She is a mother of two.