‘We all live in the shelter of each other’

From donating money and items to charity to working in the community or simply lending a helping hand, these Ottawa parents are raising their children in a culture of giving, and setting an example for the next generation of philanthropists.

They may be only six and three, but Sophia Kelly’s children are already accustomed to giving to those less fortunate.

The mother of two felt it was important to teach her daughter, Sam, and her son, Jack, to help others.

“I was raised to take giving very seriously,” says Kelly, an Ottawa-based birth doula. “In Jewish culture, tzedakah, or charitable giving, is considered extremely important. I’ve been through times in my life when I’ve relied on charities, and the kindness of others. It’s important to me that my children know they can lean on others, and allow others to lean on them.”

The family uses a tzedakah box, which Kelly describes as “a little like a piggy bank, only with the goal of saving funds to donate rather than spend.” Twice a year, the kids help sort through their clothing and toys to donate.

“We make an effort to reach out on a one-on-one basis as well. We stop to buy panhandlers cups of coffee and we bring struggling families our gently used baby equipment. We simply help however we can.”

Like Kelly, many Ottawa residents are embracing giving as a part of the early childhood curriculum and are leading by example.

Adults may be the ones cutting the cheques now, but it’s their hope that someday, their kids will take the reins and give on their own. Now is seemingly the perfect time. At the end of 2016, Canadian charities tallied up their annual giving totals to find that giving had reached a 10-year-low, according to the 2016 Generosity Index published by the Fraser Institute, based on data from the Canada Revenue Agency.

Lisa Di Lorenzo is teaching her children Arthur, 5, and Beatrice, 3, how to give with a three-piggy-bank principle from the book Raising Financially Fit Kids.

“They each have three piggy banks: one is labelled Money to Save, the second, Money to Spend, and the third, Money for Causes Close to my Heart,” says Di Lorenzo, a toy store owner.

“They get a small allowance each week, and then any birthday or Christmas money they receive also goes into these piggy banks, and they decide how to divvy it up between them,” she says. “They have no problem giving to causes close to their heart. I don’t have to remind them to put into this piggy bank often.”

Kelly’s efforts are starting to pay off as her children embrace giving. Her daughter finds ways to help people around her and likes making cards to include with donation packages, while her son is currently saving to donate to a giraffe sanctuary.

Meanwhile, freelance graphic designer Leah Stolarski and her husband have implemented a monthly family meeting to discuss what charity they will donate to that month.

“This way we can learn about the causes that are important to us,” says Stolarski. The intention is that their daughter Beatrice, 21 months, will someday be able to contribute more.

“I want her to be a kind, empathetic and generous person,” says Stolarski. “I also want her to feel a sense of responsibility for causes she cares about and empowered to be able to make a difference in the world.”

It doesn’t take wealth – or any money at all – to raise kids in a culture of giving. While some families give their support through charities, others work to help those in their immediate communities.

Every week, Ashleigh Diffin and her daughter Lennyx go through their home and find items they aren’t using to share with members of their Barrhaven freecycle group. Although no money is exchanged, their gifts make a difference in the lives of those around them: usable items are passed onto neighbours and diverted from the landfill.

“Lennyx used to have a hard time parting with her things, especially her toys, even though they were items she had outgrown and rarely played with anymore,” says Diffin.

“That’s when I began including her in the process. She now gets to choose which toys stay and which are to be shared with our community. She understands now that other kids get to enjoy our things and she likes the idea of her toys being played with again.

“Lennyx also understands now that she too benefits from the process as she has more time to enjoy her other toys instead of taking up a lot of time cleaning up the ones she doesn’t use, which were just in the way.”

Rashka Berrigan does the same, teaching her children about those in need. “I randomly do things, pick up free stuff and give (it) to others, help people shovel, get them to pick out food while we grocery shop for the food bank bin, clean out their toys to give to kids that don’t have any or as many, talk to homeless people and ask them what they need and try to get it for them.”

Like Berrigan, Ottawa resident Dee Campbell also helps the homeless by bringing food to shelters at Christmas. Kindness and giving are important to her.

“That characteristic is a part of me and it’s one I value in others,” she says. “It feels good to help others. I want my daughter to be the kind of person who considers others, who is empathetic, who gives to others when possible.”

She models other random acts of kindness for her three-year-old daughter by giving to those who aren’t necessarily in desperate need, through donating blood, lending out baby items and baking pies for their neighbours.

These mothers all agree that whatever the cause and whoever the recipient is, it’s worthwhile teaching the next generation to give.

“At some point, we are all of us in life vulnerable different ways,” says Di Lorenzo. “And there are some people at some points in their lives who cannot help themselves.

“We all live in the shelter of each other.”