“Do what you Can” Challenge

Newborn caps

Here are the 29 caps sewn by four of us who are mothers and wanted to reach out to other mothers, now working their way south to the Caps to Cap-Haitien project at the Mama to Mama initiative. They took a few old T shirts and a few hours of combined time. Just little things. But little things to save little lives.

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” Edmund Burke

orange shortbread

When we first started our tradition of offering plates of cookies for sale, we had no grand ambitions. Motivated by another homeschooler’s comment at swim lessons, the local families each did what they could to raise a little money so that we could buy livestock for third world families. All we did was select cookies that were utterly delicious (and could be frozen) and send an email out to friends and coworkers. We had hopes to have a few orders, maybe 5-8. When we topped out around 50, I was excited and completely freaking out. Since then, we’ve baked an average of 1800 cookies each year. It’s a lot, but evenings and weekends permeated by the scents of orange peels, ginger, chocolate, and peppermint are enjoyable. And it’s such a simple little thing; all we do is bake things so that others don’t have to. But we raise hundreds of dollars every time and make a real difference in the lives of others.

What can you do?

I want to encourage you to do what you can. Don’t try to solve all the world’s problems, and don’t give up because you’re overwhelmed. Do what you can.

Events you could host (charge a $3-5 fee, or ask others to bring non-perishable food):

  • a Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution evening
  • a crafting party – let them use up some of your stash while having fun
  • a card-making night
  • a board game night
  • a family sports event – snow tag or skating, for instance
  • a wine-tasting night

Things you can do to raise money:

  • sell cookie platters
  • once a week, chose a coffee instead of a latte and donate the difference
  • shovel snow or weed gardens
  • have a family piggy bank for collecting small donations all year
  • ask others – it’s surprising how often they’ll say yes

Things you can do:

  • volunteer for just one hour
  • smile at someone who is just a random stranger
  • write a thank you note to someone under-appreciated…like the mall cleaning staff
  • make a blanket or a hat for the homeless with something in your stash

Peppermint Cookies

It’s an amazing question, once you start asking yourself: What can I do? You’ll discover that the answer is unique but the result is always the same: you can make a difference.

Do something to make a difference and post about it here to be entered to win a pretty sweet prize package.


29 thoughts on ““Do what you Can” Challenge

  1. Kim says:

    Thanks for this lovely reminder. It’s true, we can all make a difference.
    Like you, I am sewing little hats for the Mama to Mama project. I’m also knitting a coat for a rescued greyhound. I’m giving gifts only to the people I see in person at Christmas and have made a large donation to a children’s charity in honour of those people I can’t be with this year.
    I do need to find somewhere to volunteer. I used to volunteer regularly; now that I’m an expat and a mom, I haven’t yet figured out how to do it. But I will make a point of finding out.
    Thanks again for the reminder. And kudos to you for all that you do.

  2. Jen says:

    You could add one more thing to your list:

    Put one extra thing in your shopping cart to toss in the food bank donation box at the door on your way out.
    A couple of cans of beans or jars of baby food won’t add a whole lot more to your grocery bill and can make a big difference to a needy family in your city.

    Save me some shortbread, please!!!!

  3. Michele@Philoxenos says:

    What a brilliant idea! It gave me the idea to host a fellowship/fundraiser at our home over the holidays to raise money for the international missions offering we do every Christmas season. Fun to be together but also a great way to raise some money!

  4. Stacy says:

    Girl – You’re driving me nuts! Just thought I’d drop you a line to let you know I spent the day with you. (Kinda creepy???) I stumbled onto your blog today and have allowed myself some time – in bursts throughout the day – to read as much as I could. Can’t believe all you’ve accomplished this year!

    Finding your site very encouraging – I am at my Type-A perfectionist stage and it’s not working.

    Would love to talk with you sometime about your plans for your trip to Germany. My husband & I went to Czech Rep in 07…would love to go back and stay the entire summer.

    Looking forward to getting to know you – I’m sure I’ll refer to you around the house as my “Canadian Friend”…

    Have a great week –
    Stacy in Texas

  5. Carrie says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful reminder!

    Each year we have the boys go through their playroom and donate their toys that they no longer play with to the local Salvation Army. They always amaze me with the things they are willing to part with and why.

    We also have the boys each pick a toy that they would want for Christmas and we donate it instead to a family less fortunate.

    We have always given to the local food drive here run by Tim Horton’s…. it is used for local families in need.

    I have hopes to make some blankets or caps to donate this year. I am trying to get over my lack of confidence first…. I don’t want a tiny little hat falling apart on a tiny little head.

    Thank you again for the push to good for others… and my soul too.

  6. tbird says:

    I’m in the UK so I’m not entering your competition but thought I would add that me and DH both “work” for the British Red Cross, mostly we administer Band Aids to children at village fairs and so on but sometimes, just now and then, we get to really make a difference to someone. It makes the hours of training on cold nights when you just want to stay home worth it.

    I am also a Rainbow Guider – leader of a small group of small girls within the Girl Guiding association (like Daisies in the Girl Scouts) I took it on to keep my daughter’s unit from closing a year ago, just so my dd would be able to keep her place, but now I’m hooked and it’s so wonderful to see “my” little girls growing in confidence and trying things they would never otherwise do.

    I get more out of my volenteering than I could have imagined possible, my mum thinks I’m stupid to invest so much time in things that don’t bring money into my home but I don’t care, we make ends meet, what more do we need?

  7. Kris says:

    Love the quote ~ it’s going to stay on my desk.
    We have several things going on right now, Grace’s fund raising for her humanitarian trip to Jamaica, clothes donated to the local shelter, gifts for a child from the angel tree, and gently worn shoes will be shipped out in a week or two for
    Soles 4 souls http://www.soles4souls.org/index.html.
    Thanks Sarah, for sharing your ideas, and encouraging us all!

  8. Cheryl says:

    Being a pack-rat by nature, I find it very difficult to cull enough to meet my own wishes for a less cluttered home and life. However, I have decided to bite the bullet and gather at least 2 vanloads full (*full!*) of household items, craft items, clothing – whatever I have here that is excess – and give it away. I will be giving to a woman near here who knows five or six other families who are in need – she collects stuff and distributes it to them and to others in her area who need things. This way, it’s straight to the recipient at no cost, rather than via a 2nd-hand store.

    We also bought several very warm mittens & hats for the mitten tree this year, to help children in our province who do not have adequate cold-weather gear. (And it is COLD here in the winter, dipping down several times to -40).

    Finally, we have just had a loss in our family. My brother & sister-in-law’s precious baby was born still yesterday. I have a burning desire to go there, to the visitation and funeral, to hold this wee soul & say good-bye, and be there to support his devastated mom & dad.

    However, really, that is more for me than anything, I have come to realize – they’re lost in their grief, and relying heavily upon support of each other. Instead, what they might appreciate more is if I used the plane fare to buy a stove from the guatamala stove project in baby Alex’s name. That charity is here: Guatamala Stove Project and is one which my brother & SIL have been strong supporters and promoters of.

  9. Jacob Godwin says:

    Your cookie story is very encouraging and motivating. In these hard times, it’s very easy for us to justify looking out for “number 1”. I admit, I’ve even felt that way at times.

    But the reality is, we’re all in this together. Any little bit we can do to ease the suffering of someone else will make this world a better place for us all.

    So far, people in my religious community have helped to feed the homeless here in Atlanta as well as have clothes drives and free medical clinics. These little things helped many people and only required a little time and effort (and in some cases money, but not much).

    I’ve even decided to take my children with me on some of these projects just so they can get a glimpse of how blessed life can be, and how difficult it can be.

  10. Laura says:

    Over the years, we too have pared down our own selfish expectations for the Christmas season, giving a greater portion of our resources and selves to those who lack hope. This year, we’re serving a local mission that impacted our own family in a rich way by “adopting” broken families, providing for resident mothers and their children, and donning aprons Christmas morning, instead of sitting cozily around a fire and next to a throw-away tree while sipping our cocoa at ease.

    Your commitment is inspiring.

  11. AverageJaneCrafter says:

    Sarah, as always, you amaze me. I always feel such a great wave of peace just reading your blog.

    I love the quote as well – such a beautiful reminder. I often feel as though I can’t do anything because I can’t do much, so it’s nice to be reminded that even the small deeds make a huge difference.

    I also find that something I think will take ages, or will be too overwhelming or just simply won’t fit in our schedule end up being far easier than I imagined they would be, and I shouldn’t let my fears, worries or frazzled nature keep me from doing them.

    My daughter and I have been packing sack lunches for day workers through our church for a few years now. Inevitably, when our assigned day comes to pack the lunches I have a little ping of, “oh! but our schedule has gotten so full for today!” and then, once we are there and are in the flow of laying out rows of bread/cheese/meat and she’s dropping fruit in to dozens of lunch sacks, I think, “how on earth did I think we couldn’t fit this in?”

    Thank you for such a sweet, gentle (and – most importantly – non-judgmental) reminder. 🙂

    (from CMP)

  12. Tinkermama says:

    Recently I have been challenging myself to think about whether my ideas about helping another human being is really “help”. Is giving money to sibling going to nurture that relationship or put up a barrier? Is donating livestock to another country really sustainable and do they have the resources available for an animal? Am I doing something for self gratification or am I stretching myself? Is time sewing blankets more efficient than just spending money? Just some thought I am entering right now…

  13. KitchenMama says:

    We are doing a complete handmade Christmas this year. Among other things, I learned to knit and have taught my two kids; we’re sewing wool felt pouches for the cousins; peppermint bark, ginger snaps, and Russian tea cakes will fill gift boxes for friends and family alike.

    The new thing my husband and I are doing this year is to sponsor a young family in lieu of giving presents to each other. There are so many things that people in our community need, it seems a shame to spend on ourselves when we already feel so complete. We hope to keep up this tradition and maybe next year get the kids involved in it, too.

    You’ve inspired me on many fronts: reading material, gift making, knitting, homeschooling approach, etc. Thanks so much!

  14. Amy says:

    A wonderful post… and that piles of knitted things is amazing… and gave you a great photo in the wings, too! You and your family are a total inspiration, Poppins.

  15. Home4skool says:

    There have been times when I have mused over the same things as Tinkermama. I like Cheryl’s method for donating, “2 vanloads full (*full!*)” to be given directly to those in need with no store involved. At this time in my life, I also prefer to give a little closer to home, especially when many people in the U.S. are struggling just to put food on the table.

    “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”. Giving money can be a welcome gift, but teaching a person how to grow money seems like a greater, critical gift that most of us don’t learn in school. A simple gift with a little savings bond attached helps teach principles of saving and an alternative method for growing one’s money 🙂

  16. Christine says:

    You are such an inspiration. I can’t compete. Maybe it’s the season of our lives (children age 2 and 5 at home all day hubby at work from 6:30 to5) or maybe I am just slow with accomplishing my work here. Regardless, my efforts to give this year and do for others are simple ones. I aspire to broaden the scope in the years to come. . . .

    I was just about to email a list of the things now when my daughter came up and asked to do a puzzle – so I will try to add them later. One of the list of simple gifts is to get on the floor more with these little ones. More later! Truly!!

  17. Christine says:

    OK . . . finishing that last note . . . From your handamade Christmas list I somehow got to Ali Edward’s site and read thru some of the coallated suggestions from her readers and had an AHA! moment when I read a note from a Jane here under “traditions” http://aliedwards.typepad.com/_a_/2008/11/simplifying-org.html
    about how she had started sending in the mail pictures with a memory to her parents throughout advent (she wrote about it beautifully and is quoted verbatim on Ali’s site). But in reading that something happened for me – although we are in a time of not being able to do tons of big things I could really give something grand on a very small scale in everyday life. It gave me the idea to send my parents an email with a few tidbits of our day at home and include a few photos. My p’s live 1,500+ miles away. So, my concrete deed this advent is to email them each day. I’ve done 5 days so far. And I’ve made a separate, personal one for my in-law, too. Beyond that, I am letting go a lot this Christmas. I am much more in my heart. sinking into a cuddle with my 2 and 5 year olds. Reading anytime a request is made. My plans for dinner might be pork loin, but we sit at the table making mediocre snowflakes in 75 degree weather and are in *joy* together and so I make grilled cheese for dinner – and I let go and don’t fret. This year Christmas is about transforming my heart, making more room for love, generosity in the moment, patience. Also, one concrete thing I am doing is offering a relative who is struggling my most difficult hour of the day – 4 to 5 pm – he doesn’t know it, but at that time I am setting aside whines, fears, impatience in a personal . . . i don’t know . . . prayer of sorts that he come to peace. This is not something he knows. It’s just in my heart.

    One last thing: A few months ago I read about improv and had the insight that I say – all too often -, “Well, maybe. . . ” or even, “Well, not right now” when in reality I could say, “sure why not.” It’s really early as I type and maybe I’m not making sense. But in improv (which I’ve never done formally) there is a rule that you accept whatever your fellow actors toss out and you add to it, run with it – otherwise the acting stops the fun ceases. I am trying to take this attitude this Christmas. When I am on the phone with my neighbor with four children under four and she says her dinner is a flop. I am trying to look at my dinner and see that there is enough to share with her. That’s not my best improv example, but it’s a broad idea that is helping me open my heart this year – seeing abundance, seeing yes, seeing possibility and loving more. Again and again I am being surprised at the things that fit when I think they couldn’t at the fun a puzzle is when I think I’ve done it 500 times already. It’s the love we put into our actions that transforms things.

  18. Cheryl says:


    I love your improv thing.

    Years ago, before being a parent myself, I was dating a man who had kids. He was in default “no” mode. Ultimately, I asked him why his default answer was “no” instead of “yes”. He had absolutely no idea – it was more habit than anything. (I hear that, we all fall into bad relationship habits!). He started making “yes” his default unless there was a real reason for the answer to be otherwise, and they were a much happier clan.

  19. ChristineMM aka The Thinking Mother says:

    Besides monetary donations to nonprofit organizations and the two churches we attend, I volunteer my time and energy to various local community things.

    Kids right in my area get benefits from Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting. The Cub Scouting program is a family centered program that helps families forge bonds together. Sadly most of the parents in the Pack work full time or two jobs and the Pack is in jeopardy of folding due to not enough volunteer help. My husband volunteered to be a Leader. I have led for 4 years and stepped down this year. However they were in need of help again so I’m back to planning meetings and running some meetings. I have the time to help since I’m not employed outside the home for pay.

    Since Scouting is largely run by volunteers the program needs parents to volunteer. Scouting is not just some paid program like music lessons where the parent pays a fee and drops the kid off for instruction. Without the parent volunteers the program is lower quality or the groups cease to exist. Yet since not all parents do step up to help the program requires someone to do the work. So even though I’d like to sit back and do nothing I realize that if the program is to be there for my kids, and the other kids, I am willing to help make the program run.

    Boy Scouting is great and is more centered on the boys becoming independent and developing leadership skills. The Troop was in need of help with some jobs. I spent a full week in the summer at sleepover camp with them helping provide adult leadership and supervision. I thought that qualified me as doing ‘enough’ for the year but they approached me to take on a small job in addition. I received training on that last week and so now I’ve got another volunteer job on my belt.

    I’ve also worked recently with my church on a program for youth that helps kids in the congregation and also reaches out to kids living in a nearby inner city who live in poverty financially and spiritually.

    Last week my kids and I pitched in to donate two bags of food to a soup cellar and donated two bags of new toys to Toys for Tots.

    I feel strongly that we can all help right in our local communities in various ways. I hope that by volunteering my time in these ways my boys are learning that volunteerism is something they should do when they are adults too and I hope they are active in their local communities and doing things like Scouting with their future children to form strong family bonds.

    Strong family bonds and connected kids I feel helps develop healthy, mentally stable adults who are participants for good in the world in all kinds of other ways too.

  20. Lynn says:

    This is just a simple thing, but something that gives me great pride in our community and neighborhood.

    When the girls and I are out for a walk in the stroller, I carry some small trash bags with me, and I pick up any trash or doggie related messes that we come across. I know where most of the public trash bins are along the way so that I don’t carry it all home with me.

    A little bit every day makes a big difference, and I use the opportunity to talk to the girls (2 yrs old) about appreciating nature and taking care of it.

  21. Karen says:

    Great Idea Sarah
    I am really enjoying your blog lately.

    We hosted a homeschool craft sale at the end of November. The girls sold home made fimo beads, winter pot pourri, waldorf inspired felt creations they helped me sew and handmade paper ornaments. The boys sold wizard kits they made, with magical rings and swords, special wooden coins, and secret message scrolls. I sold some of my sewing items. We raised over $60 for two charities from our family table and we filled a large bin with food donations for the food bank.

    Before Christmas we are sewing fleece blankets from scraps, making fleece hats and mitts for our mitten tree at our UU church, and we’ve spent 2 afternoons volunteering at the Feed the Children warehouse sorting donations.

    While it feels great to write this list out, what feels even better is watching my kids look at a problem or an issue and be absolutely certain that they can do something to make it better. That is the greatest gift I hope to give them – the knowledge that they can make a difference

  22. rixja says:

    Our family has felt convicted to do something that the world may see as “radical”. Our children (girls ages 12,10,5 & 1) would like to make a difference in the world by foregoing any gifts for ourselves this year. Instead, on Christmas day, we will pool our savings together and spend the day deciding how we can best impact the world and make the gospel of Jesus Christ known across the nations. It is sweet to hear the girls talk about feeding the poor, buying medicine for a family, supplying books and bibles for a village, and hoping to adopt an orphan. This is the stuff that makes your heart leap with joy!

  23. electricbarbarella says:

    As trite as this sounds, I am doing all I can do to keep my kids fed, a roof over their head, educated, and happy. We’ve had a very rough year (DH is a teacher and faced pink slip city) and did all we could do to keep up.

    We do not attach any religion to this holiday as we are an atheist family and quite proud of that fact; so we decided to start making as many memories as we could for ourselves.

    One of those happened last night–I took the kids to a place that has been around for 32 years–since I was 3 years old. It’s a place that my parents took me every year growing up and now, I am taking my girls. They may be almost 17 and 13, but they loved the fact that this family spent the better part of a month putting up so many lights and decorations for all to see, then opening up their home/yard for all to get a closer look. We also had a nice discussion about how no one gets into the Christmas Spirit anymore and doesn’t decorate or at least put some effort in to it.

    My oldest volunteers at the local stables and through them, she is learning compassion, kindness, caring, and love just by taking care of all the horses and animals on this property.

    I can’t knit, have no resources to cook or hold a bake sale like you mentioned; my only talent is my art and that’s a business I am trying to get started. The best thing I can do for my family, right now, is do all I can to feed, clothe, and educate them; prepare them as much as I can for the outside world. I don’t think I’m failing in this, but it’s something I’ve got to work on everyday.


  24. béa says:

    Hello Sarah,

    I came upon your blog by chance a while ago and thought I bookmarked it…today I wanted to find the writing program I thought your blog mentioned but first I had to find your blog again…a few vague memories helped.
    Christmas cookies, baby caps, knitting, Canada.

    If you ever get the chance, I would love to know the name of the writing program you recommended.

    Thank you.

    Enjoy the summer…very wet in Upstate New York.


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