For little, little ones (like my 2 1/2 year old, Sky), formal community service, such as volunteering at the local food pantry, is clearly not an option. However, teaching little ones to care for others and their community is possible.
Something that Sky seemed very aware of early on was messes and trash. What a blessing to have a child that likes to clean up. Even when he was first walking, if he saw trash at the park he could not play until he had picked it up and thrown it away. He's still like that and, of course, it is something that we encourage -- cleaning up after one's self, not littering, and picking up trash outside if we see it.
Perhaps he knows somehow that picking up trash was something he experienced in utero. My mother and I walked through the neighborhood the days leading up to Sky's birth squatting down and pick up trash in hopes of rushing him along.
Leading by example is important. Through this, we can foster community service and generosity. This past year, we took fruit to a Thanksgiving Dinner for the needy and helped out. One of the things they needed volunteers to do was clear tables as people left. Holding Sky's hand, we got a trash bag and began to clear tables.
Of course, he loved it and saw it as his mission to find every little piece of trash on the ground. He surprised guests as he crawled under their feet to pick up stray plastic spoons and such.
As we left the community event to head over to friends for our family Thanksgiving meal, my husband and I agreed that helping out should definitely be part of our family's Thanksgiving tradition!