In high school, I read the quote “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” It is most often ascribed to John F. Kennedy, but is borrowed from Luke 12:48 (“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”) I read the Kennedy version in school and found it very stirring and compelling, and have spent most of my life trying to live up to it. I watched the concept in motion, for most of my life, in the actions of my grandmother. She gave generously and happily to those she loved—whether they were here clients (she was a well known and respected real estate agent in Massachusetts), her friends or her family. I pursued the concept as a Social Worker; and I have continued to believe that it is what makes life truly rewarding.
One of my favorite things about this time of year is that it is widely seen as the “season for giving.” Of course, all year should be that, and we don’t need to see that as merely a advertising tactic for consumerism. I love the fact that each holiday season people take a little more time to think about giving to others. Each year in December I see the Salvation Army Angel Trees in the mall, the Giving Tree at our local book store, and the growing pile of solicitations from charities and organizations which stream into our mailbox as a call to take stalk, and think about how to give back.
Since my children were little I have taken them to shop for other kids, who have put their wishes on those paper angels in the mall, because we can. When we had much less, we bought much less, but I try each year to honestly reflect on what I have, and what I can give. It seems cliché, but the giving brings so much more joy than receiving. For many years, I tried to pick angels corresponding to the ages and genders of my own children, so that they could help make the decisions. As my own kids have gotten older, I just choose the angels based on how I’m feeling that day. One year, my kids and I were able to find an amazing pink bicycle with streamers and a bell, on sale, for a little girl who had never had a bike. My kids were so excited, even though we didn’t know the little girl, and wouldn’t be giving it to her ourselves. All Christmas morning, I wondered what she looked like, and wished I could see her face when she got her new bike. Little Man was the same age as that little girl that year, but he had owned a bike from the time he was able to get on one.
When I shop for books, I try to imagine another parent reading to their child, or another child finding the magic of a treasured book for the first time. This year, I bought Life of Pi for a 17 year old boy, and hope that he will find all of the beauty of that story before seeing the movie. I felt giddy as I bought Goodnight Moon for a two year old girl, and teared up thinking about “whispering hush” to each of my own three children, when we cuddled up before bed and read it. A four year old boy will love Where The Wild Things Are, I hope… and it will be even better if some adult holds him close and says: “Oh, please don’t go, we’ll eat you up we love you so!” I still say it occasionally to my kids, though two of them have long since gone. I bought a book for my favorite Co-Operative School in town, and was inspired to do more shopping, knowing that they would get a percentage of all sales.
Last year, our exchange student Klara (aka: Denmark) and I happened to stop by a local grocery store, near closing time, which was (sadly) going out of business. I wheeled and dealed with the owner and he graciously sold me nearly $8,000 worth of baby food and supplies for next to nothing. We then donated the food to the food bank and several charities in town that help women and infants (read the original post here). The supplies completely filled Middle Man’s Subaru and Denmark and I were beside ourselves when we saw the faces of the organizations we shared with. We felt like two Santas, and grinned for weeks. I know that it was one of the most exciting events of Denmarks time in the United States, and it was that much more wonderful for me, that I got to share it with her.
In December we sit down to take stalk and make donations to organizations, local and international, that our family believes in. Each of our kids has been encouraged to tell us about an organization that they would like to support and why. We ask them to do some research and make sure that the money is used in a way that best helps the people it serves, and then we let them donate to them. One year Little Man supported dolphin rescue, after seeing the movie The Cove. In asking our children to think about these things, our hope is that they too feel compelled to make giving a meaningful part of their adult lives, when they are one day able to give of their own accord.
While it is always nice to give locally, we love helping people in places that we feel connected to, or who we believe are particularly in need of some help. This year, we travelled to Peru and saw first hand how hard the people of the areas we visited work, for very little. Clean water is not a given in many places there, and around the world. We met a mother who was raising her Down Syndrome child in a tiny village in the mountainous jungle of the Salkantay trail. She was pregnant, and as I played with her son, I was struck by how hard her life was— doing laundry by hand, farming, raising her children without many things, and yet how warm and kind she was as we passed across her property. A friend here has helped form a charitable organization called Peru Fund, which helps mothers just like the one I met. Having been to Peru I can now see more clearly the purpose of Peru Fund’s mission. We formed bonds with our guide there and other people who touched us and were so wonderful along our journey, and we want to give back to those communities. Peru Fund has helped bring water, medical care, educational programs, and many other humanitarian projects to the people of Peru since 1992. My friend got involved after adopting her daughter from Peru. That daughter is now a dynamic young woman who is very involved with the people, culture and needs of the country of her birth. It is a meaningful completion of a circle that has impacted so many in Peru and here.
To be clear, it’s not all about donating money, buying gifts… giving your time can have a huge impact on those you help and your own sense of humanity. This summer Little Man and I got involved in a literacy program for migrant children living on local farms for the summer. What started out as plan to do community service, became something that we couldn’t wait for. We went two days a week for several weeks and got to know the kids in the program very well, and shared a mutual affection that definitely meant as much to us as it did to the girls and boys in the program. As mothers and fathers came to trust us, they joined us on the blanket out on the grass and listed to stories. I got to hold sweet smelling new babies, as other children cuddled closed for story time. The kids felt a sense of pride as they realized we would not judge them as they struggled on words. Little Man’s best friend did it with us too, and the three of us looked forward to each day that we went to the camps. The kids were so excited to have the attention; they loved being read to and even more: showing us how well they could read. We did art projects; we shared our favorite books and worked on helping the kids feel excited about words and the world that books open up for them. As a social worker, I now well that sometimes having one or two people reach out to you, believe in you, want to see you succeed… carried on far beyond the program. It didn’t cost a dime, but was worth so much.
Of course, there is the giving that we do for our own children and those we care about, around the holidays. It is the season for Hanukkah and Christmas in our home and we try to make both special, not just for the gifts but for the traditions and time spent together. As small children, presents were the highlight, and I would be a fool if I tried to say that my three older kids don’t still look forward to getting some things they need and want. As I’ve read about parents of younger children, shopping for a special toy, an amazing Leggo set, the doll house their child really wants, I can’t help but miss the years when my kids were little and believed in Santa, in the sparkle of presents that appeared beneath their tree, or the the fun of opening a small gift each night of Hanukkah. That special excitement that small kids feel has changed, but I still feel excited as I try to find the things that they will really appreciate and use. I love watching them open a package I’ve carefully wrapped, as I hope that I’ve hit the mark.
Each year when the holidays come around, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all that I have. I have a safe, warm home. I eat good food when I need or want it. Clean, safe water comes out of my faucets whenever I turn them on. My children are safe, educated, happy and healthy, and so am I. I know that the economy is hard and not everyone can say all of these things, but there is always someone who is less fortunate than each of us. I believe strongly that we can give to others in small and simple ways that make an impact. I am fortunate that I can give more than I once could, but whether it’s donating your time, buying a book for a child who might not have one of their own, or giving to larger organizations that helps many, it feels really good… and ’tis the season!
There are so many important organizations and groups who need funds to help others in our communities and around the world. If you don’t have extra funds, see if the food bank, the local shelters, or programs in your area could use your help. Most are underfunded and are grateful for your time. These are some fantastic organizations that I believe in, which could really use some help, but take some time and find out what you believe in.
Go to your local mall or some small stores and pick an angel off the tree. It’s fun to shop for children who may not get much this year! Peru Fund (helping the people of Peru, with water, medicine, eduction and more); Habitat for Humanity (they work both locally and internationally), Boys and Girls Clubs of America (Look up your local branch. This organization does so much, and is woefully underfunded in so many places!); Huntington’s Disease Society of America/HDSA (My family has been enormously impacted by this illness, and they are always in need of funds. Unlike many of the bigger diseases,” they are not as well funded); American Red Cross (consider donating to help with Hurricane Sandy relief); Care International (Working to end poverty, and particularly targeting empowering women in communities— there is also Care USA); Soles4Souls (making sure that everyone has a pair of shoes); Wine to Water (working to bring clean water to communities all over the world); Doctors Without Borders (provide urgent medical care in countries to victims of war and disaster regardless of race, religion, or politics); Humane Society of America (we love our pets and are happy to help the organization that brought them to us). There are so many others locally that really need help (Food Bank, YWCA, local shelters, our small theater, the Pickford…)!