Talking to Kids About Natural Disasters, Hunger, and Poverty

Last Sunday, we picked up a little cardboard coin box at church, so, throughout Lent, Axel can collect spare change for world hunger.  The coin box has acquired a heavy load of change, and Axel’s pouncing on every spare penny he sees.  Unless, of course, he finds a penny and he’s right near the old school horse at the grocery store, in which case the penny’s buying him a horsey ride.

All of this – hunger, news of the disaster in Japan, Lent, and the creepy life sized purple Easter Bunny at the grocery store – has led to a lot of questions.  What we’ve established so far is that there’s a day called Ash Wednesday, Lent comes before Easter, the Easter Bunny isn’t real but the candy he brings is real, and I can’t really explain why some people are hungry and why earthquakes happen.

Talking about the Easter Bunny is easier than any of these other things – hunger, natural disasters, what Easter means.   It’s simple to discuss the differences between Peeps and chocolate bunnies.  Our conversations about people who don’t have enough to eat or people who need help after a tsunami and an earthquake always circle back to why – why don’t hungry people go to the store, why was there an earthquake, why, why, why.

A twenty minute PowerPoint presentation about plate tectonics is not the answer he’s looking for.

All of these questions, the ones about faith, and why bad things happen, are harder for me right now than they are for Axel, because they dig into all my own uncertainty, and sorrow about families that don’t have enough to eat and worries about those in Japan who’ve lost their homes and loved ones.  After a few questions, with his short three year old attention span, Axel moves on to putting change in his box for the hungry, making a farm out of Legos, or leaping off of furniture, whereas I keep thinking about nuclear crises.

The conversations go best when I focus on the small, tangible ways that we can help.

There are dozens of ways we can address hunger and poverty, and help victims of natural disasters.  Axel’s still on the lookout for spare change to put in his box to end world hunger.  We’re shopping for chickens and pigs in the Heifer Project’s catalog.    We’re exploring what we can do to help provide assistance to the victims in JapanCloser to home, we’re collecting cans for a local food pantry, and supporting the recent campaign to address hunger launched by the foundation where I work.

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