Four-year olds Maria and Geoffrey were playing house in their preschool classroom. She was unloading the grocery cart and he was setting the table. Maria was carefully putting the food away on the shelves in their little play kitchen, but I noticed a few pretend cans of vegetables were left out on the countertop.

I wondered if she had forgotten to put away her peas and carrots, so I inquired about those leftover cans still sitting out. Geoffrey spoke up quickly to set me straight. “Oh, those are the cans we’re takin’ to the food pantry. We have to help give food to kids who don’t have enough food to eat.”

I assured him I thought this was a really smart idea. Watching in awe as these two continued their “house” scenario, I marveled about how brilliant, in fact, their parents and teacher must be. These children reflected the thoughtful teaching of adults who are determined to share lessons of citizenship with their little ones.

Across our country and in our very own communities, there are children who often go to bed hungry. The USDA and advocacy groups describe this as “food insecurity,” a term that describes limited access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. According to Feeding America, a nonprofit geared toward serving food insecure families, one in five American children go to bed hungry each night. That’s approximately 12 million kids.

And yet many of us have pantries that are crowded with too much food to store. We stack cans upon cans to make room for more food after each trip to the grocery store, somewhat blind to the disconnect between our own abundance and many people’s food insecurity.

Parents and educators have the opportunity to change the way our society thinks about our resources. Our attitudes about our belongings are formed very early in life and are impacted by parents who insist that we set aside part of our allowance to give away to a charity highly valued by the family. They are impacted by teachers who encourage kids to bring in a pair of mittens for a mitten tree for kids whose hands would otherwise be cold all winter long.

Each fall, my community conducts a massive food drive which promises to fill local food pantries for the lean winter months ahead. Community leaders bang the drum for this cause that assists so many local families. Adults from every business volunteer, and thousands of households contribute, resulting in a most impressive haul donated by this very generous community.

Most importantly, schools proudly compete for their impact, weighing their contributions against those of other schools. The addition of these foodstuffs from the schools certainly helps to nudge the total higher each year. But I am convinced that the most important impact of this involvement in having kids help fill the food pantries is more long-term in nature. This annual act of giving is impacting kids by teaching them about their social responsibilities to share what they have.

We have the opportunity to raise a generation of children who will see to it that no one has to go hungry in this land of plenty. Maria and Geoffrey offer hope to us all as they show evidence of having internalized this value. When generosity shows up in child’s play, you can bet it is firmly planted in their hearts.

​Claudia Quigg is founder and executive director of Baby TALK: www.babytalk.org. Write to her at cquigg@babytalk.org.

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