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."
Thanks and have a great 2012!