Of the three traditional ways to prepare our hearts and purify our souls during Lent—praying, fasting, and almsgiving—almsgiving may need special prompting and explanation. Praying and fasting (or giving up something like TV) are fairly easy to explain to children.
Our economically depressed area leaves most students with little if any allowance money to share with those in need. Yet, the alternative idea of sharing kind words and acts of goodness can easily be forgotten or overlooked in their busy weekday activities.
So our class creates almsgiving pockets to share with our parish community during Lent.
The idea for this activity took shape when my daughter was three years old. I would give her small cut-out angels to take to Mass to hand out to people around us. People were deeply touched by this simple gift! We once heard from a woman several years later that she still had one of those angels on her kitchen counter.
Building on that idea, I have students create simple almsgiving pockets that contain encouraging messages of love and faith. [CLICK HERE FOR THE PATTERN AND PREPARED MESSAGES AND BLANK STRIPS]
To create the pocket, cut along the bold solid lines, fold the two flaps up (along the dotted lines), and tape the flaps together. This is the back of the pocket. Turn the pocket over, to the front, and decorate the pocket with pictures, words, patterns, or stickers. Then write short messages on strips of paper, decorate them, and place one or two in each pocket.
Encourage students to hand out these almsgiving pockets containing words of care and encouragement before or after Mass. This gives children a concrete way to share the love of Jesus who sacrificed so much for us. I suggest that they give their almsgiving pockets to people who are sitting alone or who might look sad or worried—making sure not to interrupt anyone who appears to be praying. This gives students an opportunity to pay attention to the needs of others and reach out. They say to these people, “I made this note for you.”
This is a simple exercise that can have a powerful impact on the entire community because people feel embraced by the love of our young people in the name of Jesus. This actually can work during any liturgical season.
I also brainstorm with the class about other ways to “give alms” during Lent. We talk about:
* collecting toys that are still in good shape to give to a program that provides assistance to children in need
* preparing a song to sing after Mass to share a Good News message with the community
* doing a fundraising projects to collect money for our parish St. Vincent De Paul Society (for example a bake sale, a car wash, or an auction of donated items).
When we lovingly share with others out of our own bounty—no matter what it is—we follow Jesus who gave everything for us.
Judith Costello, MA, writes for national and regional publications and is a Third Order Carmelite (OCSD). She is an artist, freelance writer, and catechist. Judith can be reached at