CEDAR RAPIDS — On a recent cold winter’s evening, sisters Annabelle and Eleanor Spangler, with their mom, Heather Spangler, stopped at the Hiawatha Public Library with bags of food. They were there to restock a Little Free Pantry outside the library, a small box where anyone can take or leave non-perishable food.
The Spanglers were behind the installation of this miniature food pantry as well as three others, and its far from the only acts of kindness the kids have taken on. Through a group they created, Kid-Powered Kindness, they’ve done everything from collecting supplies for animal shelters to raising money for hurricane relief in Houston to holding a book drive for children in Ghana through the International Book Project.
“Whenever a kid has an idea, we usually do it,” Heather Spangler said.
The group was nominated for a United Way of East Central Outstanding Youth Volunteer Award. Voting for the awards is closed, with winners to be announced at the “Time for Art” event April 5.
Annabelle was just 4 when Kid-Powered Kindness started. On Christmas in 2014, she looked around at all the presents and remarked to her mother that there were many kids that didn’t have any toys. She decided she wanted to do something about it and in January, she hosted a party where each friend who came brought toys they didn’t play with anymore to donate to the Young Parents Network. “I think all kids are really smart and have ideas when they see problems around them,” Heather Spangler said. “They want to do something about it.”
Now age 9 and a third-grader at Viola Gibson, Annabelle and her friends have spent the last five years looking for ways to help others, big and small. Her younger sister, Eleanor, 5, has joined in.
“It’s really fun. It’s really nice to be kind. It makes you feel really good,” Annabelle said. “I really like it when we work really hard to do our project and it works.”
The Little Free Pantries were Annabelle’s idea, after she saw a Little Free Library and wondered if the same concept could be used for food. The group partnered with the MOMs Club of Cedar Rapids, whose members brought over tools and wood to build the library boxes. The kids painted them, and they worked with Hy-Vee Food Stores at Edgewood, Collins Road and Mount Vernon Road, and the Hiawatha library to have them placed on their properties. Each Little Free Pantry has one family who monitors it to keep it stocked, though anyone can drop off donations.
“The hope is when the kids see a problem, they’ll start seeing solutions and won’t feel paralyzed but will think, ‘There’s something I can do,’” Spangler said. “And I want them to see the value of what they can contribute now — they don’t have to wait until they’re older. Their ideas and their energy are making people’s lives better.”
Heather Spangler said Kid-Powered Kindness started slowly, with activities tied to the holidays.
“Then people started asking what the next project was. We made the a Facebook page in the third year, when we were doing a book drive for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program,” she said.
The Facebook page, facebook.com/KidPoweredKindness, has grown from more than a way to organize activities. Spangler uses it to promote acts of goodness by kids both inside and outside the social media group, with the goal of encouraging and inspiring people.
The message has spread, with families in other cities sharing kid-powered kindness projects they’re participating in. One family in Saint Augustine, Fla., even started a second chapter of the group and built a website, kidpoweredkindness.org.
“I had never met them, but they heard about what we were doing,” Spangler said.
One Cedar Rapids family that has gotten involved are twins Kacper and Kamil Richter, age 7, and their mom Ata Richter. They participated in an activity making piggy banks to save money for donations to Family Promise of Linn County and were hooked.
“I like to be kind to other people,” Kacper Richter said. “It makes me proud, and it felt so good.”
Ata Richter said she hopes being part of activities like this create lasting lessons for her children.
“We try to teach them that kindness is key. The may not understand fully right now, but I think small steps teach that,” she said. “I think the sooner we start to teach them to be kind and help others, the better.”
Kamil Richter said he hopes more and more people decide to get involved.
“It’s important,” he said. “People need to be kinder to other people and to share.”
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