Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Calendar 2011 - But What Can I Give?

[Note: This post originally ran during the first Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories in December, 2007]

As the title above states, this was the dilemma of the Little Drummer Boy: seeing what the Magi had brought and feeling that he had nothing of value to give to the baby Jesus. We often have greater gifts than we realize, be they material items or true talents. The obstacle often is how to match them up so they work for good and for change.

I was not raised in a home where volunteer work was performed or charity donations made, at least not in the formal sense. But I always think of my mother as very charitable. She was the middle child of 12 and was always the "peace broker" among them. And this continued in adult life as anyone acquainted with her knew that she was always the reliable, good friend that you could call at 3:00 am and say, "Please help me." Those are the people you keep close to you.

In California, I was involved in several Christmas-time charities that enabled you to "adopt" families in the community who had dismal prospects for any sort of a Christmas. The Salvation Army and The Edgewood Center in San Francisco would call me in early November and let me know that they had several families who could use some help. More often than not, these were single mothers with one or more children who were trying to get their lives back on track. That, I could relate to.

So I'd put out my e-mail to co-workers who actually looked forward to this every year. I would make copies of either a handwritten letter from the mother asking for basics such as underwear, clothes, dishes and maybe, if it's alright, a toy for one of her kids. And almost never was there a mention of what Mom wanted. Luckily, the organizers supplemented her letter with all the sizes, wants and needs of her and her children.

The first two weeks of December would be filled with phone calls, storing items, etc. Items were delivered to the charity unwrapped so they could be inspected and made sure they were appropriate. What I received each year was astounding: bikes, clothing (new, of course), household items, gift cards to grocery and clothing stores. I soon came to the realization that many people have the desire and the means to help those who have less, but they often don't know where to begin.

So, along those lines, I've taken on a project this year in Chicago. Operation Santa Claus is run by the United States Postal Service here and takes letters written to Santa and matches them with volunteers who want to play Santa for a day and deliver needed items to the child, his or her siblings, and parents or caretakers. This has been going on for several years but I would always read about it too late in the season.

Down at the main post office, volunteers had sorted the letters into piles: one child, two children, etc. Again, there were letters that would ensure you spent the rest of your lunch hour with a box of Kleenex. Operation Santa Claus then gives you a sheet with rules and instructions, takes your ID and personal contact info and wishes you good luck. And thanks you profusely.

Right now I have friends out shopping for Family 1 (a single mother who has two small children, works 30 hours a week and goes to college) and Family 2 (a grandmother who is caretaker for her three small grandchildren). We will then have a wrapping party next week. But this time, we get to actually deliver the items to the family. I just hope I have the emotional stamina and wherewithal to do this part of Operation Santa Claus. If you are interested in such an opportunity, click the link above - many cities have local Operation Santa Claus chapters.

Is it really better to give than receive? Why can't both occur at the same time? They do when you try to make a difference in someone's life, especially that of a child.

© 2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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