We spent some time this weekend in the service of others. Not only because it’s awesome but because I really don’t want to raise my kids to be entitled assholes who wear Abercrombie & Finch sweaters while they whine about the new phone their parents won’t buy for them. There are enough of these people on the planet already. The kiddos and I spent Sunday afternoon at my mom’s house where we filled dollar store baskets with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner, minus the turkey. The basket filling only takes a few minutes, but feeling lasts much longer. We will skip a couple of hours of school today and drop off the baskets to the Utah AIDS Foundation, which my kids always enjoy. It makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, which they are. If you have yet to start a family tradition that involves giving, I would like to suggest that you do so this year.
As a child, I didn’t know that there were kids in the world who didn’t enjoy a huge turkey dinner with their family every November or find secret surprises from Santa in December. We were blessed to always have more than enough. When I was in my early 20’s I began volunteering at the Utah AIDS Foundation and I was eventually hired as a full time employee, which was where I had my first experience with the amazing work they do for others. During the holiday season I sat at my desk and watched families line up in the snow, crowding the door of our food pantry, waiting for a turkey and a basket of supplies for a holiday meal. Hundreds of turkeys, baskets that filled the hallways of our office building and grateful clients, this was my favorite part of the job. We served people who were unable to work due to illness and others who couldn’t afford groceries because the medication that kept them alive was twice as much as their monthly income. UAF offers Thanksgiving baskets, Christmas baskets, stockings filled with essentials and Christmas gifts ranging from new sheets to winter coats. All of this happens because every day, every year, people choose to give and give and give.
After I left my job at UAF, I began making the baskets and personal care stockings I had watched our clients pick up during the holidays and I’ve never stopped. As my kids have gotten older, they enjoy this tradition as much as I do and I’m so grateful for that. My kids don’t know what it feels like to be hungry on Thanksgiving, but they understand that other children do. They are beginning to understand that we have an obligation to take care of our fellow humans. Is obligation a strong word? Yes. But we do. We all do. And we need to let go of the idea that someone doesn’t deserve our money or our time or our gifts. That is not our business, our business is to give. When we give, we must give without attachment, without judgement. There is no other way. Giving to others while we are here on earth is the whole fucking point of this crazy existence.
It hasn’t always been easy. One year, when our children were young and we were tight on cash, we adopted a family for Christmas. We shopped and made gifts and when we were ready to deliver the goods, I contacted the family so we could schedule a time for drop off. For days I left messages and didn’t hear back. When I was finally able to get a hold of someone, they seemed irritated that I had called. “Look, I’m busy shopping in Park City so I will text you my address and you can just drop the stuff off on the side of my house.” I wanted to cry. The next day after work I drove to the address I had been given and parked in front of their house. A house that was twice the size of mine. I left the bags of items, the gifts that we could barely afford, and I drove home. I was fucking livid. It seemed unfair and not right and all the other things that cross your mind when you aren’t worrying about your own business. The following year we adopted again and we continue to give whenever the opportunity arises. Why? Because it’s not my business what their situation was, my business is giving. What if your donation goes to someone who doesn’t need it or appreciate it? I don’t know and I don’t care. There are non-profits and charities and individuals who will misuse your generosity. There are people who will not be grateful. There are people who may take advantage of your kindness. Who’s business is that? Here’s a hint…not yours. The joy must be in the giving. The joy must be in the doing.
The time I spend with my kids shopping for food baskets or personal care stockings is what I’m grateful for, that is where I find joy. The lessons they learn about helping others and stepping outside of themselves for a moment far outweighs what happens to the stuff we donate. They have yet to experience someone being unappreciative or taking advantage of their kindness, but I’m sure they will. We all do. That is beside the point. My belief is that there are more good, honest, loving people in the world than not and I want my kids to feel the same way. I want them to become adults who think of others and share whatever they have with those in need. More than any college diploma or giant wedding or lucrative career, I want my kids to have a generous, kind heart.
Interested in giving? Here are a couple of links to my favorite charities. If you have one you love, please comment below or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Utah AIDS Foundation – Provides educational programs throughout the community, as well as a food pantry, holiday baskets and Christmas gifts for those affected by HIV/AIDS in Utah.
St. Jude Children’s Hospital -Provides pediatric cancer treatment as well as the treatment of other childhood illnesses. Families are not billed for treatment, housing or food, so they depend on donations to cover these costs.
Meals On Wheels – Providing meals for home bound seniors in the community.