One of the reasons I enjoy the holiday season is because of the many opportunities to give. I give regularly and consistently throughout the year, but these months are extra special because I feel like I can contribute to someone’s direct, physical need(s). I am given the opportunity to do something for someone that is fun and rewarding. Quite simply, I get to help other people by shopping!
I am thankful to be a part of a church community that makes giving effortless. In November, our church hosted a thanksgiving food drive for members of the community who were not able to afford a meal for their families. They asked the congregation to provide canned goods/packaged side dishes (green beans, corn, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mac n’ cheese, etc.) and they covered the turkey. I allotted a set amount from my spending strategy (I hate using the word “budget,” more on that in a later post) to side dishes and picked them up during my bi-weekly visit to Targét. How simple was that?! What’s even more awesome is that almost all of the items were on sale so I was able to give much more than I anticipated. Score! After all of the items were collected, some friends and I volunteered to deliver the meals. I was humbled by the gratitude and kindness of the recipients and glad to be a part of something much bigger than myself.
A few weeks after the food drive, the Angel Tree program started up. This program provides gifts to children who’s parent(s) are incarcerated. This year I chose a 5 year old boy and girl in need of clothing. The timing was perfect- all of local stores rolled out their holiday specials and I was able to purchase more for less. Earlier today I dropped of the last of the presents and I’m proud to say that Sunday, December 4th, marked my third year participating in the program. Truly, giving is so easy and fun! Here’s a play by play of my experience:
- Two weeks ago, I walked to the Angel Tree table in the church lobby and filled out a short form, knowing my personal information was secure on both ends; I could not access the details of the family and they could not access mine.
- I was handed a stack of angel shaped sticker cards to look at, each with the first name and gift request of a child. The angel sticker contained a short message from the parent (which would later be affixed to the gift) and relevant administrative details, like clothing size, gender, age, and tracking code.
- I picked two angels to support and gave the corresponding codes to the volunteer coordinators. You are allowed to pick however many angel cards you want so long as you return the gifts by the deadline.
- I went SHOPPING! Afterwards, I wrapped the gifts and affixed the angel sticker to each corresponding bundle of gifts. On Sunday, I returned the gifts to the church lobby. All done!
Side note: notice the clean corners around the edge of the present, the mark of the expert gift-wrapper…
I’m still in shock at the money I saved and all the items the children received! God is good!
Since this is the season for giving, I am reminded of a funny experience that happened last year. Through the Angel Tree program I chose a 5-year old boy, who wanted a play set. Feeling very generous, I decided to take my puffy-chested, non-child having self to the store with the intention of buying the biggest, loudest, most ridiculous spectacle of a toy my money could afford. The thought of a child opening this gift and exploding with excitement motivated me to get to the store quickly! After not being in a toy aisle in 20 years, I strutted to the little boys section proudly thinking, “I’ve got this“, fully expecting there to be the one toy to end all toys on the shelf. There was supposed to be a spotlight, smoke, and heavenly chanting when THE gift emerged. I was to triumphantly lift said magical present above my head while customers and clerks cheered along my path to the register. It was supposed to be EPIC…until I actually arrived at the toy aisle. Oh. My. Gosh.
There were SO many options. There were SO many characters. There was so much stuff that I quickly became overwhelmed. When did it get like this?! Who allowed this to happen?! I didn’t know what to do, so I figured I needed a strategy: process of elimination. I discarded those toys out of my price range and ones that did not have bells and whistles. Done. That narrowed my options down to about 42 billion toys so then I tried walking down every aisle slowly to see if something stood out. Nope. I tried walking down the aisles in reverse order. More nope. This wasn’t working.
That’s when I panicked a little and tried to come up with a new strategy. “I know!”, I told myself, “I’ll ask a clerk. They see what goes on all the time and surely they would know what 5 year old boys like.” After about 5 minutes I spot a young employee. “Excuse me, are you able to help me?” I asked. He nodded and I explained my situation. I asked what he thought an appropriate toy was for a boy. “Really, anything” he said. Then he walked away. Ok. Not helpful at all.
Disappointed, I turned to my phone and googled. When in doubt, google it out, right? Google told me the names of expensive game consoles. Fail again. Then I called my sister, who is a retired 2nd grade teacher. She said all the kids loved this Lego set so I ran to the Lego aisle. They were for ages 10 and up. Curses! A few mothers with children floated through the aisles and even a few fathers and sons. Too shy to ask for a stranger’s opinion at that moment, I secretly stalked them to see what their young children picked up. These children just picked up whatever was on the bottom shelf then whined about not being able to get it, until another toy caught their eye two seconds later. Another fail. In hindsight, I’m really glad I didn’t get dragged about by security for stalking. That would’ve been quite the pickle. After about an hour passed (not joking) I finally called my brother and that’s when he shined the light on my dreary situation. The answer to my dilemma was simple, yet profound- “Hot Wheels.” I bolted to the toy car section and behold- there were large, loud, awesome looking monster truck sets for the child’s age. Brilliant! I briefly debated between a water track and a monster truck rally when a mother and her two kids rolled by. Ready to leave at this point, I overcame my shyness and courageously asked her which would be best. I learned that bath time play toys that involve water are cool, but they really don’t hold the child’s attention and the require a towel(s) to clean up after water is thrown everywhere. Thanks, random mom! I wearily, yet gladly, made it to the register to pay then headed home.
I say all this not to just recall a funny experience, but to use it as a reminder keep what is truly important the main focus- giving to those in need from the love in your heart, not out of compulsion or to to receive something in return. For all the bargain hunting shop-o-holics out there, this is your season! I encourage you to find a place to give and trust me, they need your support. Not to mention, as you can see from my experience, giving could possibly be an adventure all by itself. :o)