'Tis the season of giving, and volunteer opportunities abound. Preston's and Griffin's elementary school has a holiday project in which food, clothing and toys are collected for needy families at another elementary school in Tucson.

The church we attend has Christmas trees with tags on them, noting the needs of less-fortunate children and adults in Tucson. We can pick up the tags and then return with wrapped gifts.

When we go to see the lights at Winterhaven, we will bring canned goods to donate to the Community Food Bank.

These, and other giving opportunities, are meaningful for my boys. It is important for them to understand that there are many children in Tucson whose basic needs aren't being met and that we need to help. The children need food, a sweatshirt or a pair of shoes. They hope for a toy, maybe a soccer ball or a stuffed animal.

However, after the first of the year, volunteer opportunities that we can take part in as a family will diminish. There are some one-time events throughout the year, but we have struggled to find an organization for which the four of us can volunteer on a consistent basis.

You may have heard of The Giving Tree. It was a charity focused on helping the homeless in Tucson that folded in July 2012. An Arizona Daily Star investigation uncovered a number of ethical and financial problems with the organization in 2009, and The Giving Tree could not manage to turn things around.

I was disappointed to learn about the misdoings, but I was still sad to see The Giving Tree shut down. For my family, The Giving Tree offered a consistent volunteer opportunity for all four of us. We could show up at a dirt lot near East 22nd Street between South Columbus Boulevard and South Swan Road on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. with food and serve it to the poor who needed a meal.

We would bring something healthy, usually watermelon, grapes or oranges, to the lot. We and other volunteers would all hand out food.

Our boys helped feed the hungry. They chatted with children their own ages that walked or took a bus and then sat in the blistering heat, or in the cold, because they needed a free meal. They got to know many of the regulars who came to eat and who came to volunteer. It served as a great lesson for our children, and it felt good to help others.

Serving food to the poor on Sunday nights was part of our family routine. But since The Giving Tree shut down, our service to others as a family has been sporadic, and concentrated around the holiday season.

Volunteer opportunities for adults are plentiful, but whether it's due to legal issues or a belief that children will be more trouble than they're worth, volunteer opportunities for families with younger children are scarce.

If you are aware of any, please let me know. We'd like to make service part of our family routine again, and perhaps I can share the opportunities in a future column for other families who are looking to do the same.

On StarNet: Read Kelley Helfand's recent columns at azstarnet.com/kelleyhelfand

E-mail Kelley Helfand at foothills@azstarnet.com