Good question.

It’s no secret that what we call voluntarism is at the heart of what it means to be a Junior League member. We volunteer our time to create lasting community impact. Period.

But the Junior League of Norfolk-Virginia Beach, Inc. has come up with an interesting twist on voluntarism by involving members’ children in a project they can literally get their hands around. It’s called Little Hands, Big Difference.

JLNVB member and Community Vice President Laura Bangor explains: “I was Membership VP last year and we did a focus group asking members about what they wanted out of their League experience. Some of the feedback that we received was that our members would like social events that included their families, more ‘hands on’ community events, and having a link between our community and the ‘social’ aspects in the League. Using that as a jumping off point, the Community Council brainstormed over the summer on ways that we could work with Membership Council and ‘Little Hands, Big Difference’ grew from there.”

Little Hands, Big Difference is a classic League initiative. The JLNVB chose a community partner, Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, and focused its volunteer hours last November on working on its 15th annual Mayflower Marathon food drive at a local mall. JLNVB brought together 15embers and their children and members of the community together for the Little Hands, Big Difference event (in the same mall as the Mayflower Marathon). The League also opened its event to the public and publicized it through Facebook and its community partners, which brought in non-members and their children as well.

The Little Hand, Big Difference format was designed to involve children (most between two and twelve) at two levels: fun and work. The fun part of the event had healthy snacks and Thanksgiving-themed games and crafts along with a chance to see the mall’s parade for the arrival of Santa. The work part involved sorting food into bins for delivery to the nearby food drive. The JLNVB purchased supplies of the 10 food items that the Foodbank indicated were their most-needed “kid foods” and participants brought other food donations. After they sorted the food, the children loaded the food bins onto carts and walked it over to the Mayflower Marathon.

All of this contributed to the overall success of Mayflower Marathon, which collected enough donations to provide 429,000 Thanksgiving meals to the needy in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area.

But what about the kids? Laura adds: “The children loved it because they were cheered and high-fived as they brought the food and delivered it. They were so excited and I think that it really made an impact on them, especially when they saw all the food that was being collected. Our goal was for the children to have fun and to share with them the joys of philanthropy and helping others. We do a lot where we reach out to children in need, but we also wanted to reach out to teach our children the importance of helping others. One child told us his favorite part of the day was ‘Taking the food to donate because there are people who need it and we don’t want them to be hungry.’ That was rewarding to hear.”

Mission accomplished.