The giving season is here. Once again, condensed into a few short weeks of voluntary (!) opportunity, giving takes center stage.
I’m not one of those smart people who spreads the task of gift collecting around the calendar. I like to be in the season, in the mood, and inspired by the sights and sounds of holiday. I do a lot of my shopping on line for the convenience factor. And living in Alaska means that most of my gifts will be shipped, so it’s easier to shop and ship sitting warm and cozy in my living room. And the store’s always open!
But for all the convenience and variety, online buying is a lonely experience.
Every year, I like to get out to the stores and do a little of my shopping the old fashioned way. Face to face with the shimmer of lights and color, it’s easy to get in the mood to give. I love the icons of the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas, at their best, bring out the best in people. And if some treat gift-giving as a competitive sport, there are plenty of others who offer selfless sharing where it’s needed most.
While I’m out looking for the perfect items to go under the tree, I see potential that needs no tree, no names, and small effort. But these acts of kindness warm me down to my toes, put a smile on my face, take me out of myself and my small world.
At the grocery store I see a table set up outside the door, manned by volunteers collecting items for a children’s food pantry. They hand out cards that list the items they’re collecting. Pick up a few things for them while I shop, drop off on my way to my car, and snap! the good deed’s done. And all I had to do was throw a few things in my cart and hand them off. Yes I paid for them. But these small donations don’t make a big dent in a food budget, yet it all adds up to meals for hungry kids.
Another way to give at the grocery…my Safeway invites customers to add a dollar or three or five to their total bill. The extra is donated to the cause of the month, often to organizations that are fighting specific diseases. I like to say yes, even if I only add a dollar or two.
Angel trees, Toys for Tots and programs like these, provide gifts where they’re needed most. I’ll be honest to say, though I’ve never felt wealthy, my kids never wondered if there would be gifts for them on Christmas morning. One of the saddest things to see the day or two before Christmas is an angel tree with names still attached. I always wonder about those names.
There’s always giving through my church, in the community and outside it, sending dollars to be foot soldiers and ambassadors of goodwill. Often churches give to local families that have special needs, and that’s a wonderful way to connect.
There are endless ways to take part, join in, reach out. This season, I’d like to challenge anyone reading to make a difference. Be deliberate and intentional about giving. If you can, remain anonymous. That’s actually part of the fun.
- You can give your money…that’s easiest for some, hardest for others.
- You can give your time…that’s easiest for some, hardest for others.
- You can give your cheerfulness and smiles. I love to smile at a customer service worker when the line is backed up or when they’ve had a grumpy customer in front of me. I like to let them know I’m in their corner. Anyone who’s ever worked in a customer service position will understand this. The relief of meeting patience, kindness, niceness, after a difficult customer…well, that can turn a miserable moment into sunshine. I know, because I’ve been there.
- Buy something…anything…from kids selling door to door. I went on many a band trip financed from candy and calendar sales, and my kids did their share of fundraising too. Be a “yes” house! Don’t disappear when you see them coming down your street.
- Take food in to work, to friends, to any place you volunteer. Food is always welcome!
- Here’s an idea I saw tonight…put together gallon ziplock bags of things that homeless people could use…travel sized toiletries, granola bars, chap stick, gum, tissue packs, etc. Keep them in your car to give when you see a need.
- Give to a veteran’s organization. Enough said.
- Pay a toll or some other fee for the person in line behind you.
- Adopt a family that needs assistance and give to them anonymously. Leave a box with the makings of a holiday dinner and wrapped gifts at their door. Neither you nor the recipients will ever forget that box.
- Give airline miles if you have them and know of someone who needs them.
- Many companies allow employees to donate leave time to co-workers who have a medical or family need. You could consider donating time to a fellow employee who’s missing a paycheck because they’re out of paid leave but can’t return to work yet.
- Find a cause or group that speaks to you and give to it on a regular basis.
- Give spontaneously to something you’ve not supported before.
- Give generously. At the risk of making assumptions, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that anyone reading this has first world problems. And if that’s true, generosity, on some level, is within your power.
- At the other end of the spectrum, I sometimes think that giving on a regular basis is more important than the actual dollar value of a donation. I waffle on this…is it better to give a large amount to one or two good causes, or to spread the giving around? But however it’s done, good will be done, I’m convinced of that.
And finally, a few truths:
Some gifts will be wasted, unappreciated, lost. That’s sad. But even when this happens, it doesn’t diminish the choice to give, and the good that choice does for the giver.
If at all possible, make giving a family activity. Involve your kids or grandkids, not to impress them with your generous spirit, but to teach them to develop their own.
Speaking honestly, my giving to others is like a boomerang…it comes right back, in an emotional reward if no other way. Giving doesn’t make me a saint…I give because it feeds and nurtures me to give as much as it helps the ones who receive.
I give because it’s the right thing to do, and the heart knows that instinctively.
I believe the impulse to share is one of the best traits of humanity, and it’s built in. We just have to nurture that trait.
I give because others have given to me, and I’m grateful to be on the giving end of the equation.
It’s a little too early to be sending out holiday greetings, but maybe this is a way to launch the season. Be mindful of opportunities and look for the joy.
“The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you.”
― John E. Southard