TeacherLists Blog

10 Ways Schools Can Give Back to Their Communities


For many schools, November starts the season of giving—a time for students to reflect on what they’re thankful for and to experience the joy that comes with giving to others. This year, experiencing that joy of giving is more important than ever.

Research has shown that giving can actually be better than receiving. When you give, you get a sense of joy and satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have helped someone else. This is because when we give, it activates the pleasure centers in our brain and fulfills our innate desire to help others. This is great for students, especially now when social-emotional learning is a necessity.

We’ve rounded up 10 fun and easy ways students can make a difference while warming their own hearts—and the hearts of those they help—this holiday season.


1. Assemble “blessing bags” for those in need

This is a fun activity that kids can help with or do themselves—just have families fill gallon-size bags with inexpensive personal care and food items that can be donated to your local homeless shelter or food bank.

 Sample Wish List

  • Gallon-size plastic baggies
  • Toiletries (deodorant, toothbrushes, razors, soap, shampoo)
  • Kleenex tissues
  • Hand warmers
  • Socks
  • Wash clothes
  • Gloves
  • Bottled water
  • Granola bars
  • Crackers
  • Beef jerky
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Small denomination gift cards for coffee/food


2. Start a school service club

Have students take initiative and get involved by starting a year-round charitable service club that meets regularly to perform community service inside and outside their school. Service initiatives can include providing food for needy classmates, donating or collecting toys for homeless children, cleaning up litter around the school, and doing other good works throughout the community.

Sample Wish List

Holiday Toy Drive:

  • Gift cards
  • Coloring books and activity sets
  • Board games
  • Play-Doh
  • Lego sets
  • New stuffed animals and dolls
  • Toy trucks and cars
  • Books
  • Art sets
  • Headphones
  • Footballs/soccer balls/basketballs
  • Bike helmets

If your school has a student service organization or the PTO has a community service committee, work together with those groups to bring their projects into your classroom. It’s also a good idea to connect with the school counselor, who may have character education curriculum that can be tied into the work of a student service club.


3. Hold a fun challenge for a local service organization

Donations are always more fun with a little competition involved. Challenge grade-levels to fill their hallway with food donations to give to their town’s local food bank or pet supplies to donate to a local humane society, or have a penny war by assigning each grade level a bin to fill with pennies and donate the money to a local charity.

Sample Wish List

Food bank donations:

  • Packaged cookies
  • Boxes of cereal
  • Canned soup or vegetables
  • Pasta
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Packaged crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Beef jerky
  • Fruit cups
  • Peanut butter

Before starting a food drive at your school, find out what items the local food bank needs most and if there are items it cannot accept. Ask about other ways students can help, such as sorting donated items at the food bank.


4. Try a “clothes closet” program

Got hand-me-downs? Ask families to donate gently used fall and winter children’s clothing to pass along to other families in your community.

Sample Wish List

  • Clothes that are in good condition—clean, stain-free, no holes, working zippers, etc.
  • Winter coats
  • Snow clothes
  • Shirts
  • Pants
  • Winter boots
  • Dress shoes
  • Sneakers

You can dedicate a space at school to hold donated clothes or add a clothing swap to an existing school event. Designate what types of items families can bring (winter coats, school uniforms, etc.). For each item a family brings to the swap, they can take another one home.


5. Help homeless children

Let students help children around their same age. Through Project Night Night, students can donate a stuffed animal, security blanket, and age-appropriate book to a child 12 or under who is experiencing homelessness.

Sample Wish List

  • New or newly handmade blankets (can be quilted, fleece, knit, crocheted, and store-bought)
  • Books appropriate for ages infant to preteen (no books that are religious, need batteries, or make noise)
  • New or “never used” stuffed animals smaller than 20 inches

You can also reach out to local foster cares and ask what they need what ways students can help.


6. Coordinate a backpack program

The Backpack Program helps feed hungry children on weekends and school breaks. School administration selects eligible children, fills backpacks, and sends them home each Friday for the weekend and following week. Students can help out by collecting food to be packed.

Sample Wish List

  • Breakfast items like cereal, oatmeal, or granola bars
  •  Easy to prepare meals like mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or canned soup
  • Bread
  • Milk or juice
  • Fresh or canned fruit
  • Fresh or canned vegetables
  • Snacks


7. Promote literacy with a book drive or start an outdoor little free library in the community

Let children share their love of reading by donating new or gently used books to local libraries, schools in need, children’s hospitals, or starting a little free library.

Sample Wish List

Book suggestions for elementary school-age children:

  • Any books by Mo Willems
  • Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
  • The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Drew Daywalt
  • The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K Rowling
  • A Bad Case of Stripes, David Shannon
  • Chrysanthemum, Kevin Henkes
  • Winter’s Gift, Jane Monroe Donovan
  • Ode to Icky, Maranda Russell
  • Flying Heroes, Adrian Schafer
  • Piggle-Wiggle, Betty McDonald
  • Splat the Cat, Rob Scotton
  • Pete the Cat, James Dean
  • Winne-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
  • The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • My Teacher is an Alien, Bruce Coville
  • The Adventures of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney
  • Magic Treehouse, Mary Pope Osborne
  • James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Beverly Cleary


8. Create greeting cards

Let students come together to make creative, colorful, and cheerful holiday get well cards to give to children with a serious illness at their local children’s hospital or elderly in hospitals or nursing homes.

Sample Wish List

  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Crayola markers
  • Crayola crayons
  • Crayola colored pencils
  • Elmer’s glue sticks
  • Stencils


9. Start care packages with hand-written letters to soldiers

Who better to thank than our service members, especially for the holidays. Students can create care packages and add a personal touch with a hand-written letter to soldiers serving overseas during the upcoming holidays.

Sample Wish List

  • Powdered drink mix: sweetened drink mixes, tea, coffee, coca
  • Quick protein: energy bars, tuna fish, beef jerky
  • Snacks: small, hard containers of pretzels, ships or nuts.
  • Candy and gum
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, shampoo
  • Personal care: baby wipes, eye drops, lip balm, lotion
  • Games: word searches, crossword puzzles, playing cards, puzzles
  • Reading and writing material: books, magazines, paper, envelopes, pencils, stamps, *self-addressed envelopes to get a letter back!


10. Host a toy drive

Children love toys, and they usually have a lot of them that they no longer play with. Gear up for the holiday season and the season of giving by having students clean out their toy rooms and donating their own toys to the community or hosting a toy drive.

Find out if your area children’s hospital has a program your school can participate in. Students may be able to collect gifts or toys for kids hospitalized during the holidays.

Sample Wish List

  • Gift cards
  • Coloring books
  • Play-Doh
  • Books
  • Games
  • Kinetic sand
  • Blocks
  • Baby toys: rattle, light-up toys, singing toys
  • Boy toys: dinosaurs, cars, figurines
  • Girl toys: barbies, dolls

    More School Community Service Ideas

    Project Giving Kids helps kids and teenagers find age-appropriate community service projects and has lesson plans for teachers.

    Points of Light suggests project ideas appropriate for different age groups.

    PTO Today shares community service ideas for middle school students.

    United Way has ideas for virtual community service projects that families can do from home.


    Get help collecting your Wish List Items

    Here at TeacherLists, we’ve created our free wish list program to support teachers and their classroom needs as well as supplement schoolwide initiatives that give students the chance to give back to their local communities.

    Originally posted 2017

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    Comment for 10 Ways Schools Can Give Back to Their Communities

    Janet Dintelman

    I really would like to be able to purchase a ten frame rug for my classroom.