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Monday, December 19, 2011

Stuff Your Stocking Blogfest: Michele Zurlo

Happy Holidays, Whipped Cream readers! During the holidays, people make a lot of big gestures. They donate a larger sum of money. They give more food for the local drive. They purchase the higher-end items for family and friends. I certainly enjoy the looks of pleasure and surprise on the faces of my loved ones when they open that gift they really wanted. At work, I challenge my students to donate food, toiletries, and pet food to our local community sharing center. All items are redistributed locally, which means the impact is greater. I've encouraged my teams of 130 kids to donate as many as 4500 items in a two-week drive. The past few years, with the tough economic climate in Michigan, and particularly in my community, I've set the bar at 1200. As I write this, we're halfway through the drive and almost halfway to our goal.

Local community resource centers operate year-round. Having spent more than a few of my formative years living in poverty, I know that you can run out of shampoo and laundry detergent in the summer just as easily in the winter. When my parents didn't have the money to buy those things, we used dish soap -- usually Palmolive -- until payday. I've washed my hair and my clothes with it, and sometimes I even got to take a Palmolive bubble bath. Those were special occasions. I didn't know we were poor. My mom made sure I ate, even if she had to send me to the neighbor's house as a breakfast/lunch/dinner guest. My neighbors never once made me feel like a charity case. Until I was older, I didn't even understand that I wasn't a beloved guest. It was the little things that mattered. They'd send their kid to our house to 'beg' for me to come over to eat with them. Our other neighbors had a special plate just for me. (Plastic. They didn't have kids, and they didn't want to chance me breaking their plates. Still, they introduced me to all kinds of tasty Polish food.)

I've made a point to highlight the importance of giving in some of my books. I drop references to it every now and again. In Letting Go, Sabrina argued that she could pay off Jonas's debts, citing the fact that she gave more money to charity each year. In By My Side, due out in January 3, 2012, the whole plot revolves around a charity event to benefit leukemia research. In Re/Bound, due out spring 2012, my heroine, Darcy, works as a grant writer who, among other things, sets up a charitable arm for a growing corporation so they can more easily give to people in need.

I've had some excellent role models when it comes to teaching generosity. Not only do I have a few good neighbors to thank, I had a wonderful role model in my Aunt Laurie who worked tirelessly in big cities around the country (Minneapolis, Washington DC, Detroit) to enrich the lives of everyone who needed a helping, nonjudgmental hand. She's been associated with several foundations, most notably the United Way. She developed early childhood and community outreach programs. She helped fund places for inner city kids to go after school that would provide physical exercise and academic support opportunities. Sadly, she lost her battle with breast cancer last February, but her legacy lives on.

I'm a teacher and the provider in a one-income household. I don't have a big house or new cars. We don't vacation every year. I'm not always in a position to give, but I like to do it whenever I can. In my house, we clean out our gently used clothes seasonally to donate. My kids and I make a big deal out of going through it all, tossing out the the things that are stained or that have rips, making sure all the outfits, especially pajamas, are matched up. Giving fills a place inside like nothing else. It's like a whole bucket of warm fuzzies that we get all at once. Last time my daughters and I unloaded our car to take things into the Community Sharing building, my eight-year-old daughter looked up at me and said, "It makes me feel good inside to give." Her twin sister smiled and said, "Yeah, I like it too."

My heart swelled up with the poignancy of what I taught my children. Take some time this holiday season to reflect on ways you can carry the spirit of community and generosity with you throughout the year. What is your favorite act of generosity you do/plan to do this year? Leave a comment below for a chance to win a pdf copy of your choice of Safe Word: Oasis #1 Yes, Justin or Safe Word: Oasis #2 By My Side. Check out these books (and more!) on my website at

Thanks and have a great 2012!


Jean P said...

I always donate to a charity such as Purple Hearts throughout the year and always try and donate to an animal shelter a couple times a year.

skpetal at hotmail dot com

Na said...

I love seeing a community come together to give back. Whether it was with my school fundraising for the food bank or with my family. Every couple of months we do a huge cleanup of things we don't need or never use and donate them to those who need them. A coat, a blanket, or some food can go a long way. I've always had great role models in my life from my parents to my teachers.

Thank you for the chance to read one of your books. Happy Holidays.


booklover0226 said...

I would like to volunteer at a nursing home this coming year. I would like to come in and read to the residents and maybe do some crafts with them. I have done some research and hope everything works out.

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com

Cathy M said...

We go to nursing homes with my church group to sing and visit.

Cathy m
caity_mack at yahoo dot com

Debby said...

I do donate to charities as well and I have family in Michigan and know how hard the economy is there. Thanks for the great post.,
debby236 at gmail dot com

Lisa Alexander Griffin said...

Great post, Michele. Giving is the best feeling...and it's good we can pass it on to our children. :)

Rose Anderson ~ Romance Novelist said...

Sweet post Michele. It's wonderful when communities pull together. I too give what I can. We're playing secret Santa this year to a family of four. We plan to sneak over and leave a bag of toys on the porch.

GladysMP said...

Giving in the right spirit brings a joy that is invaluable to the giver. In fact, the giver often receives as great a blessing as the recipient. Teaching youngsters to think of those who are more needy is a wonderful thing to do and you are right that there is a need for such at any time of the year, not just at Christmas time.

shadow_kohler said...

Great post! Its awesome what all of your kids do. To donate like that...awesome! You all are an inspiration! Michigan is aweful. Its wonderful what you all do and helping does make you feel good inside! ;) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What a great post! It's amazing all the little things you can do to help other people. My kids are almost grown, but we're active in helping through their high school. Adopt-a-family, food drives, blood drives, paying for wells in Africa - we do things like that.

Jane Leopold Quinn said...

Hi Michele, your story moves me deeply. You had lovely neighbors and especially your mother as you were growing up. And the other posters here have touching stories. Thank you all for your inspiration.


J.D. Faver said...

Thanks for this great post, Michele. I was a nursing home Administrator for many years. I worked in the Medicare/Medicaid places so the families with deep pockets weren't putting family members in our places. Sometimes I admitted residents who had few possessions and little clothing. I can't tell you how many times we pooled our $ to buy something for a resident to wear. Now, I take good clothing, accessories, lotions, and books to the low income nursing homes. They love to get books, especially books men might like. When I go to a used bookstore, I look for some Zane Grays to pick up for the guys.
Generally, they are just glad to have a visit. The Activity Director and the Social Worker are keyed into the ones who need a little TLC. Thanks for thinking of them.

wanda f said...

Wonderful post I am big on community and helping others and try to instill that in my children as well.

Judith said...

That is a lovely post.
It is too easy in all the madness that is around Christmas to forget the real message of the season.

VampedChik said...

That is very sweet! I always try to give to charities. I donate alot of clothes to purple hearts and give money to the veterans. Thanks so much! Happy Holidays!

PaParanormalFan said...

Hello Michele,
My Husband is a Vet. & a Police Officer for 30 years & we always volunteer at the Veterans Hospital & he reads as much Crime Fiction & Police Procedual Fiction as I read Erotica & each year we donate all his books to the Veterans Hosptial & they are thrilled to get them because he reads entire series, like I do.
I would very much appreciate to be entered into your giveaway for a chance to win a pdf copy of "Safe Word: Oasis #1 Yes, Justin" or "Safe Word: Oasis #2 By My Side". Since I have not yet read the your first book of the Series, I would love to start with that one, then buy the 2nd in the series.
Take Care & Happy Holidays,
Renee' S.

Frank said...

Michelle, thanks for sharing your story and reminding us that when we help, there are real people on the other side. We do share our things with others by donating to a local organization that helps families in transition (who may have lost their homes and are working to regain housing) and by donating to other organizations that help those who may not be currently able to help themselves.

Hoping your celebrating this year was merry and memorable!

--flchen1 using DH's account
f dot chen at comcast dot net

The Long and the Short of It Reviews said...

The winner of this post is J. D. Faver. Thank you!