With the Thanksgiving holiday summarily packed away, along with the memory of turkey and the trimmings, America moves on to the season of giving.
For all the complaints of the commercialization of the Christmas holiday, in the land of plenty, we’re very good at giving. We open our hearts and wallets, especially, this time of year, when the disparity between the haves and have-nots is set in such stark relief.
Compassion and decency — and, sure, some guilt — compel many of us to do a little more to provide a bit of comfort and joy even if just for a day.
My office, like many other offices and businesses during the holiday season, is geared up with bins and signs for the collection of donations of food and toys.
But as is often the case, that’s the easy part. There’s work involved in works of charity. Bill Christian, longtime point man for the Columbia Gas Control Group toy drive, says no sooner have they distributed gifts to children than they begin planning for the next Christmas campaign.
When Bill retired from Columbia a few years ago, his colleagues wondered who was going to fill his shoes in organizing their annual effort. Luckily, he let them off the hook and chose to continue to help them help Santa.
Bill’s situation is not dissimilar to the challenges I’ve seen with organizations that count on contributions from volunteers — tall on work but short on workers. The best are tireless champions who get plaques in their honor when their years of service are over. The rest of us flame out after a couple of years, wrung out by high demand and little help to pick up the slack.
It’s kind of a vicious circle: There’s such a lack of volunteers that, when a helpful hand comes along, it’s set upon with a laundry list of tasks so daunting that, when they’re complete, the helpful hand pulls back — and the list grows daunting again.
There’s no doubt, money goes a long way to helping organizations help others. Frequently, it’s the best way to give assistance to those in need. But by the same token, if time is money, consider the value of a couple of hours of your week.
Volunteering your time for worthwhile causes, like feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, lend your hands to those with the most urgent need of your help. But there’s also the stuff that feeds our hearts and souls: comforting the sick, supporting the arts or coaching a sport.
Lord knows, my family’s been the beneficiary of some wonderful volunteers: soccer and track coaches, Sunday school teachers, student dance and arts instructors — all blessed with the patience of Job.
My wife and I, in turn, do our best to impress upon our children the value of helping others. Some days we do it better than others.
That said, as a person who never seems to find enough hours in a day and remains chronically tired, I am loath to part with my time. But in a group setting, as the saying goes, many hands make light work. My church’s hospitality committee cranks out pancake breakfasts and religious education lunches by dint of sheer numbers. Losing myself in that collective could be the next way to lend what skills I possess to do the Lord’s work.
It doesn’t have to be right now and it doesn’t have to be all at once. But how about in the New Year? Start with an hour a month. Maybe, as the season of giving gets into high gear, you might consider giving that gift which is dear indeed — your time.