Exciting lesson ideas, classroom strategies, book lists, videos, and reproducibles in a daily blog by teachers
























‘Tis the Season to do Community Service

By Alycia Zimmerman on December 7, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

Community service – it always sounds good in theory, but realistically, who has the time for long, complicated service projects? Last month, as we were working outside in our school garden, some of my concerned students asked if we could do something to help the guests at a soup kitchen in sight of our school. Thanks to their initiative, my students began a service project that collected 1,000 toiletries in less than three weeks to donate to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen. Through this project, I learned that community service can be easy and quick, yet still be very meaningful.


My students collected travel sized toiletries for a local soup kitchen.











Community Service in Three Weeks or Less

With the December holidays mere weeks away, your lesson plan book is probably as messy as mine with scribbled notes marking rehearsals for the Winter Choral Show, class celebrations, and end of unit assessments. On top of that, my students already have the December jitters. Before you roll your eyes and understandably sigh that you can’t fit one more thing into your schedule, let me show you how a quick and easy community service project can add meaning to the December chaos without adding stress.


A Musical Overview

The Twelve Days of a Toiletry Drive

In twelve measly school days,
Community service is easy as can be:
Twelve days collecting,
Eleven posters hanging,
Ten minutes a-visiting, (the soup kitchen)
Nine collection boxes filling,
Eight morning announcements,
Seven connected assignments, (math and reading)
Six teams a-presenting,
Five minutes counting, (each day)
Four notices sent home,
Three phone calls, (to the soup kitchen)
Two periods sorting,
And a stronger class community!


The Logistics

I suggest that you do as much planning as possible with your students during school time. This shifts the responsibility for the entire project to them as project leaders, not just participants. It also means that the project won’t become a ton of extra work during prep periods for you.

Step 1: Lay the Groundwork

Decide who you are going to help with your service project. In my case in was easy, since we are less than a block away from an amazing soup kitchen. I simply phoned the soup kitchen ahead of time to find out what types of donations they needed. It turned out that they didn’t want food donations (they order their food in bulk,) but needed toiletries to distribute to their guests instead. Depending on your community and your timeframe, you may want to decide on the nature of your service project and speak with the recipient organization before you discuss the project with your students.

Step 2: Create a To-Do List

I held a class meeting with my students to plan our project. I explained the who/what/when/where details to my students, and then we worked as a group to generate a “how” list. This chart served as our plan for the rest of the project.

Step 3: Publicity!

My students decided on a three-pronged strategy to publicize our toiletry drive. They created posters to hang around the school; working in small teams, they visited all of the other classes in our school to present the initial project details; and most mornings they announced the running toiletry count to the school. My students assigned me the task of copying and distributing fliers to each teacher.

Step 4: Collect and Count

We decided to leave a collection box outside our classroom door and one in the school lobby so that we wouldn’t be distracted each time a student delivered a donation. Towards the end of each day, a rotating team of students collected and counted the donations for the day and add the number to our running total. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have my students write math problems using this data.


Students count the toiletries we collect each day.Students count the toiletries we collected each day.


Step 5: D-Day! (Donation Day)

On Donation Day, my students sorted all of the toiletries into categories. Then teams of students counted the toiletries in each category and recorded the totals on a chart. My students were amazed by our grand total of 980 toiletries! (As a small, high-poverty school, I was also surprised that we had collected so many!)

A chart of the total number of toiletries we collected.

 We bagged up the toiletries and my students proudly carried the bags to the soup kitchen. Ten minutes later, our delivery was finished and my grinning students filed out into the frosty air.

Students deliver toiletries to the soup kitchen.My students bring bags of toiletries to the soup kitchen.

Step 6: Reflect and Celebrate

In keeping with the quick and easy nature of this project, our “celebration” consisted of a school wide P.A. announcement sharing our grand total and congratulating all participants. Perhaps the most meaningful part of the experience was our class conversation during which my students reflected on the process. Students voiced their excitement at having led the entire school through this project, they shared their initial nervousness at visiting a soup kitchen, and more than anything else, they expressed their pride at having helped needier members of our community. One boy explained, “I never knew we kids could do something like this!”

Students proudly show the bars of soap they've collected.Students proudly show off the bags of soap they have collected.

I hope I’ve given you a glimpse at just how easy a class community service project can be. Of course, I still have ambitions of someday doing a comprehensive service-learning project with my students, a project that will be all-consuming and change the way my students see the world. However, I can now attest that even a small community service project provides a huge pay-off in terms of team building, empowerment, and awakening a spirit of activism and social responsibility.


Resources on the Web:

  • I like the kids version of the GenerationOn.org website for introducing community service concepts to students.
  • The website LearningToGive.org provides a wealth of resources for teachers interested in philanthropy, character education, and community service. They provide more than 1,600 lesson plans, literature guides, and tool kits for community service projects. I found this service project toolkit particularly useful in planning my class’s toiletry drive.
  • The National Service Learning Clearinghouse provides a K-12 Service Learning Project Planning Toolkit available for download on their website. This resource provides a comprehensive framework for planning a community service project.

Use the comments section below to share about the community service projects you have done with your students or what you plan to do this year. I can’t think of a better holiday gift to our students than to instill in them the importance of philanthropy and civic engagement. 

Comments (3)

We finished up a community service project right before Thanksgiving. My brother is currently serving over in Afghanistan and the elementary school adopted his platoon and created Christmas care packages for each of the soldiers. The students were so excited to be apart of this project. Each classroom was assigned a different item to bring in (tooth brushes, tooth paste, candy, snacks, foot powder, etc.). One class was asked to bring in a few dollars to help pay for shipping. The teachers talked up the project and even put a picture of my brother up in their classroom. Once all of the items were collected, we took inventory of the items we had and then sent out a email asked for a few items we were missing. Each of the classes made cards or drew pictures to go in the care packages. We packaged up 40 gallon sized bags with all of the things that were brought in. These bags were stuffed! We had a special chapel where the students were able to wear army clothes or red, white and blue. I placed all of the bags in a pile on the stages for the students to see what they donated. It brought tears to my eyes to see the generosity of the students in the school. I mailed 15 boxes to Afghanistan and my brother passed them out. The guys were humbled at the thought of students who don't even know about them. The students at my school are very excited for my brother to come home so they can meet him.

Wow, what an incredible service project! What I love most about your project is that it is all about connections. Your connection to your brother and through him to his platoon - plus your connection with your students and to your larger school community - all leading to a connection between your entire school and your brother's entire platoon. Thank you for sharing your experience, this is so inspiring!

Warm regards,

great idea! thanks for sharing and helping to create a new generation of concerned citizens.

Post a Comment
(Please sign in to leave a comment. Privacy Policy)
Back to Top