Everyday Things To Do To Make the World a Better Place

I was recently called to be the Humanitarian Assistant in Relief Society. I’m pretty pleased with the calling – especially considering I successfully lobbied for it after I was called to a position I felt was not very meaningful.

I feel like this calling has a lot of potential, but in some ways I’m not sure where to even start. I was hoping that I could sollicit you, my fellow Exponent II bloggers, to give me your advice. One of my first goals is to put together a flyer that I would pass out every couple of months that mentions small little things we can do everyday to make the world a better place. So far I’ve got:

  • go to the hunger site daily and click on the link to help feed starving people around the world. www.hungersite.com
  • consider finding and using a your local freecycle organization as an alternative to throwing out perfectly good items that others might want. Also you can get neat stuff for free!
  • when you go to the post office, buy the breast cancer stamps for just a few cents more in order to help fund research.
  • consider buying free range eggs for a dollar or two more to help promote better conditions for chickens.
  • If you’re an athlete, consider entering your local AIDS walk or breast cancer 5K .
  • When in the market for a pet, consider adopting from your local shelter or rescue group in order to save a wonderful animal’s life.
  • learn how to crochet leper bandages – (a great pastime to make those long church meetings go by faster :))

Any more ideas of everyday humanitarian opportunities? I’d love to hear your ideas!


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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  1. Deborah says:

    For Christmas, a relative of mine “gave” each of her grandchildren an animal from http://www.heifer.org. I followed suit with one of my neices, and now plan on making this a standard bar/bat mitzvah/birthday gift for young adults in my life.

  2. amelia says:

    i’m doing the same with my nieces and nephews (it was meant to be for Christmas; but since I’m making a little story book to go with it, it’s taking longer; it’s going to end up being a half Christmas, half Easter thing, I think). I think this is a great idea.

    i think it would be great to find ways to serve in a cultural sense, too. sometimes museums need docents. i once volunteered as a docent for a traveling Anne Frank exhibit and it was an incredible experience.

  3. John says:

    I’m at Panera eating lunch and taking advantage of the free wireless and I just saw Amelia on her laptop b the window. Hi Amy!

    Anyhow, here’s a few things that I’ve tried over the years:
    – write letters for Amnesty International to free prisoners of conscience, end torture, capital punishment, and child labor, free slaves, help women, etc.
    – attend a local humanitarian awareness lecture, peace vigil, interfaith meeting. Even if attending doesn’t directly help someone, you can network and learn more ways to help. Bring a friend!
    – Recycle, reuse, freecycle. Shop at thrift shops or at stores with a good social, labor and environmental record.
    – Give up some regular frivolous expenditure and donate the savings to a favorite charity.
    – Smile more.

  4. amelia says:

    hi john! i love panera.

    i don’t remember if caroline specified this in her original post, but when she and i talked about this (in the real world; fancy that), she was looking for ideas that were not overtly political. she wants this list to be balanced so that people of all political persuasions can find ways to perform humanitarian service. and that’s where it starts getting hard.

  5. jana says:

    Alleviating hunger is a good place to start. Hunger isn’t political 🙂

    Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, getting adequate healthcare to everyone.

    Public affairs is a great resource in this area. Every month we create a list of local charities that need volunteers/supplies of some kind. Though our Community Relations Dir has been a bit annoyed lately because she puts so much work into compiling these lists and no one seems to use them… (they are handed out in ward council meeting).

  6. LisaB says:

    Beg to differ, Jana. Hunger is VERY political.

    You know, I’ve had friends who’ve tried to spearhead stuff like this in their own wards with not much success, so congrats!

    So is humanitarian service different from compassionate service leader in that it’s outward looking, rather than service within the ward?

  7. Caroline says:

    Thanks everyone,
    LisaB, yes. This calling is working with the community/world in humanitarian ways, rather than focusing on the needs of individual ward members. I’m kind of excited about it – as long as I don’t get micromanaged by our RS presidency.

    Deborah, I love heifer. Instead of giving each other xmas gifts, my husband and I gave animals/parts of animals to families in the third world.

    John, the Amnesty International idea is great. But does it have overtly political overtones? I don’t want to tick off the conservatives (at least not yet).
    I did have what I thought was a brillian idea – thanks in part to Amy. She suggested working with the little special interest groups that are now forming in RS. So I thought maybe some of the artsy groups that wanted to get together to paint watercolors, sketch, etc. might be willing to donate them to Amnesty International, with a message on them somewhere like “yOu are not forgotten” What do you think?

    Jana, who can I talk to at Public affairs about this? I would really like that list.

  8. amelia says:

    as much as I personally like amnesty, it is incredibly politicized. it’s precisely the kind of organization i would never include on a list like this. not unless i had an organization as overtly conservative to put right next to it.

    i think there are so many organizations that don’t have quite the political baggage as amnesty, that you’d be better including them.

    not to denigrate john’s suggestion. he’s a great friend and i admire him for his own activism and commitment. i wish we could suggest things like amnesty at church without there being an immediate knee-jerk, but it’s just an unfortunate reality.

  9. Julie M. Smith says:

    I wish I could do more service things *with* my children–not only to maximize my time but also to allow them to have that experience. Of course, for obvious reasons, there are lots of things you can’t do with kids. But the one thing that I would want from a HA is a list of things that I could do *with* my kids. (Of course, depending on the demographics of your ward, this might not be a big issue.)

  10. Deborah says:

    Julie: Excellent point. At my last school we included “family service suggestions” in our monthly newsletter. The ones that got the most response, for whatever reason, were

    1) Salvation Army bell-ringing. During the holidays, families signed up for 60-minute slots ringing (and often singing) in front of the local super-market.

    2) Walk-a-thons (family exercise — for a cause!)

    3) Community clean-ups (at a park or at the school, etc.) — where Kindergartners could rake leaves, 8-year-olds could plant flowers, and 12-year-olds could paint posts.

    I think cultivating a list of kid/family friendly service opportunities would go over well. Even “simple” ones — our K-2 students kept the local meals-on-wheels supplied with colored placemats and seasonal cards. Great play-date activity.

  11. John says:

    [Begin Amnesty Rave:]

    One way I navigated the political shallows while in Amnesty was to focus on areas that I felt were less politicized. Most people are against torture, for example, especially when it’s some country overseas that’s engaging in it. When the ground invasion of Iraq began, I started a drive for hygiene kits and fresh water equipment for Iraqi civilians–and got all kinds of people to donate from far-left and far-right groups, while raising awareness of the impact of war on civilians.

    In spite of its overall liberal bent, there is some diversity. We had both liberals and conservatives on the Amnesty board at UCI. I know at least one BYU Dept. of Religion prof. who’s a member. And I was a member of Amnesty when I was a Reagan-Bush supporting Republican in the 80s and early 90s, and maintained my loyalty to the organization throughout my gradual liberal enlightenment (I’m registered Green Party at the moment). 🙂 It helps that Amnesty is a issues-focused institution. It’s got enough causes under its umbrella to find something that won’t quite offend everyone.

    That said, there are less controversial organizations to introduce to the Relief Society. But I hope you don’t dismiss AI off-hand. There might be opportunities to slip in a good word, at the very least.

    In response to Amy’s “not unless i had an organization as overtly conservative to put right next to it” :
    there is an incredibly conservative Church I know of… 😀

  12. Brooke says:

    I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in a family with little to spare, or if it is a general mind-set in the church, but I used to think (and was told by parents, in-laws, and some leaders) that giving through the church–fast offering, perpetual ed, humanitarian, etc.–was enough. If this is a wide-spread belief, Caroline, I think you should focus on the importance of supporting these other charities–really drive it home. Giving to Charities Anywhere and the Red Cross are good ones too.

  13. cat says:


    I’m just a lurker, but thought I’d put a few other suggestions out there. Perhaps including information about donating old cell phones to women’s crisis centers, donating gently used books to your local library, doing crafts for charity (lots of times advertised at local crafty stores).

    Some soup kitchens or women’s lunch places need people to just come in for a morning to serve breakfast, or at lunch to help out and don’t need you to make a longer commitment (did this once with a group of women from school) and that might be okay for older kids.

    Visiting nursing homes (we did this in college without much hassle in the way of getting permission, etc). Also, as kids our piano teacher had us do a recital in the nursing home every valentine’s day…there may be ways that families (or groups of families) could do something similar.

    Some cities have organizations that will alert you to monthly projects that you can participate in (bostoncares is one of them…).

    Sorry, this is really long!

  14. Caroline says:

    Rebecca, thanks so much for the offer of help. I was just able to contact our local Public Affairs person, and she says the local homeless shelter needs a lot of supplies. I’ll start thinking about organizing a drive.

    Amy, maybe i’ve figured out how to deal with the amnesty problem. I think i’ll offer an artsy group two options if they want to donate their art. 1) to political prisoners through AI 2) to the US troops in Iraq. That seems pretty balanced to me.

    Julie, good point. I’ll try to come up with service opportunities that families can do.

    Deborah, GREAT ideas. I’m definitely putting those on my flyer.

    John, I’m sympathetic to your amnesty rave. I’m pretty determined to keep AI in the picture somehow.

    Brooke, you’re right. I think overcoming the complacency of “I pay my tithing and my FO and therefore I’ve done everything I should” is a big problem. I’m hoping to teach a lesson in RS that will debunk that.

  15. Caroline says:

    Cat, those are great ideas as well. I really do like the idea of donating old cell phones, and I’m very interested in organizing an outing to a soup kitchen. I’ll search on the web to try to find out if Orange County has something like Bostoncares. That would be great.

  16. amelia says:

    i’m sympathetic to John’s AI rant, too. because i believe it does some very good work.

    but the fact remains that no matter how non-partisan some of its efforts are, it’s going to draw a knee-jerk in our stake and especially in your ward. and I’d hate to see the entire effort sunk because some vocal member of the ward decided to make a stink about it. i’d personally rather see the calling and the newsletter become a success than see it martyred. just my two bits.

    maybe you can get the newsletter established before putting AI in. Or maybe you can just do a little spin up front about how you realize some of these organizations come across political, but that you’ve tried very hard to present a range of options and you would welcome any suggestions that are not directly linked to a political party.

    i don’t know. I just think there’s so much potential for good here that i’d hate to see it sacrificed just because you put AI on and there are some people who are too thoughtless to realize that it does some very good work.

    cat–those are some great ideas. i wish i had the kind of resource caroline is talking about to help me find some of those options in my own community.

  17. cat says:


    What might be helpful for you is volunteermatch.org. You can put in your city, what you are looking for, etc and it’ll give you a list of things in your area (or at least a list of things that have been submitted to them).

    I’ve also just used google when I have something particular in mind that I want to do.

    Caroline, good luck in that calling and in getting lots of great stuff, including AI perhaps, on your list!

  18. nancy says:

    My son (a Bishop in Maine) and his ward members have joined with those from other local churches to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless the last two years. I don’t know all the details, but quite a few people were involved. I know he helped arrange donations from some local merchants besides helping with his family (this was my most shy child growing up–amazing!)
    My son-in-law works for Zions Bank (Church owned). Every so often they do a day of humanitarian service, usually painting and cleaning yards for local people who need help. Many local businesses do similar things.
    I mentioned in another response the many Relief Society groups that put together kits–hygiene, newborn, or school bags regularly. Our ward also does quilts as often as possible.
    How about getting a group together to help Habitat for Humanity in your area?
    St. Vincent de Paul, the Catholic “soup kitchen” in Salt Lake, is regularly staffed by LDS members. Our ward receives an assignment every so often to provide a certain number of people on a certain day. They are dependent on donations from local businesses, except that our Church provides a certain amount of money every month so they can buy meat. The Catholic Church provides the building and the few paid people who oversee things. Look around–there are lots of opportunities to join with others in any community, I’m sure.

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