I was raised in a family that did a lot for less fortunate people during the holidays. Growing up in Oregon, I spent quite a few Thanksgivings serving dinner to the homeless and needy who took advantage of our church’s free Thanksgiving meal. There’s nothing more humbling than being a seven-year-old scooping mashed potatoes onto the plate of another seven-year-old who probably hasn’t had a new pair of shoes in two years. Makes you think twice about begging for new Nikes, I’ll say that. There were also Thanksgivings where we put a full meal into a basket and delivered it to the home of a less fortunate family as part of the local Adopt-a-Family program. My parents not only made sure I helped assemble the meal, but accompanied them to the family’s front door to deliver it.
Again – humbling.
But without a doubt, the most gratifying – if initially shocking – experience of giving was when my parents announced that we were going to give the bulk of our Christmas presents to a family at our church. The Christensens had come to the U.S. from Denmark; they had six children, very little money, and ran a nursing home out of their house (and, clearly, the goodness of their hearts). They were wonderful people who did so much for the church and the community, despite how little they had – and they never asked for anything in return. Their youngest son, Danny, was about my age. Obviously, Danny wouldn’t be able to wear the clothing I’d received as gifts, but it was my job to wrap up the games and the Walkman that Santa had brought for me and present them to him on Christmas night.
At first, like most nine-year-olds, I pitched a *gihugic* fit. But I have strong parents of Scottish and Scandinavian stock, so that went nowhere. I quickly shut my mouth, wrapped my gifts, piled into the car with my parents and our filled-to-the-brim-with-gifts car, and headed to the Christensens’. They were overjoyed when they saw us bring in the gifts – of course, being the kind people they were, they tried to politely deny them, but we weren’t having it. I had never spoken much to Danny and was very shy around boys, but my dad pushed me toward him to give him my gifts. “These are for you,” was all I could muster through my mixed emotions of crabbiness over losing the presents I’d been so excited to unwrap that morning, and feeling moved when I saw Danny’s eyes light up.
From that day on, giving back to those in need has been an integral part of my holidays. Even in college, when I had barely a cent to my name, I’d take a name off the Giving Tree at UW and bring back the requested gift. One year, there was a tag for diapers for a two-year-old child. It was so unbelievably sad that someone would ask for something so elemental for their child that I burst into tears right there in the Husky Union Building. I took the tag and bought as many packs of diapers as I could afford, then asked my parents if they would help me buy a few more. It was more than had been asked for, but my God – it was DIAPERS.
These days, I have the gift of funds more than the gift of time, so I’m able to provide more financial help than has been the case throughout most of my life. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t recognize how fortunate I am to have a roof over my head (and a nice one at that) – especially on rainy or freezing cold nights, like many of those we’ve experienced in Seattle this fall. I donate to important and cherished causes throughout the year, but I still pluck a tag off the Giving Tree every December without fail. There are many Giving Trees across the country, but this year Nordstrom has a wonderful program with a twist – you can take a tag off the tree and fulfill a child’s specific gift request, or you can donate just $20, which will be supplemented by Nordstrom and New Balance to provide a brand-new pair of New Balance shoes to a local child in need. It’s a brilliant concept since shoes are the perfect blend of fashion and function – so both kids and parents are thrilled.
If you’ve never included someone less fortunate on your holiday shopping list, please consider donating via a Giving Tree program (like Nordstrom’s) or Toys for Tots. Even the TODAY Show holds a holiday gift drive, where you can donate a gift via Amazon.com. If you have a special talent, consider how you can use it to help others – my mother makes fleece scarves and baby blankets all year long, then donates the whole lot of them to a local charity or shelter. Or just pick a cause near and dear to your heart and float a check their way (they most likely have a secure online donation form on their website). It’s simple, it doesn’t have to cost much, and it makes a world of difference in the lives of others. If there’s one thing I’m certain of in this life, it’s that we’re here to take care of each other, the animals, and the earth. Pick at least one, then give.
Lots of love and peace to you for a safe, joyous, blessed holiday season.