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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Charitable

It always makes me feel uncomfortable. When we are driving through a parking lot near a supermarket or other collection of stores and see someone holding a sign saying that they need money for food or rent, I mean. Why? Because you never really know the true or full story, do you? We saw some people today with a sign, and it made me uncomfortable. We didn't have any cash with us. I told Trent that I would rather give someone who says they are in need some food to eat rather than giving them cash. I have seen a few examples of people who claimed problems but didn't have them, so it makes me uncertain of what to do.

Two instances happened on different sides of the same major street in Denver. On my drive to work at one of the ritziest shopping destinations in the city, I would see a woman about half a block away from the street, held up on crutches while she asked for money. One day I happened to drive by a bit earlier than usual and saw her on her way to her post. She hurried along on her two healthy legs, the crutches in one hand and the sign in the other. The tender part of my heart that had been touched by her plight was hurt to see her lie revealed. 

Not long after this happened, I was driving in the opposite direction on my way home. A man was holding a sign indicating that he needed a bit of money for food. A car full of generous teenagers who were stopped by a red light motioned to him. He came over to the car and suddenly started cursing at the young people inside and making obscene gestures at them. I was next to them at the next traffic light and asked them what had happened. They told me that they all decided to give the man their lunches. When he was offered food rather than money, he got angry. I told them I was proud of them for trying to do the right thing, and they seemed to be trying to wrap their heads around what happened. I hope that their hearts are still generous. I think they will be.

I also hope that you don't think that I am a person who thinks that everyone is a scam artist, or that I am ungenerous. Quite the contrary. Trent and I know what it is like to struggle with funds. Because of this, we try to help others in any way that we can. One of our favorite Christmases came out of just such a situation. Every year, our department at the bank would adopt a number of families from a local organization that helped women who had left abusive relationships. Each team, including the Training and Service Quality group, would get a Christmas wish list from a family that was trying to get a fresh start.

Sometimes just reading these lists would bring us to tears. Four-year-old children asking for a simple pair of shoes, not the latest $200 fancy ones, and mothers asking for a blanket or some basic cookware. There was never anything outrageous or expensive on these lists. They made all of us realize just how fortunate we were. To make things more fun and exciting, instead of just buying things off the list, every team would do things to raise money which would be spent on fulfilling these wish lists. I made batches of my famous cookie bars to be sold for our team's fundraiser on more than one occasion, for example.

Another team had a very fun approach. Every member of their team would buy something worth about five dollars to put into a themed holiday gift basket. They then sold raffle tickets, with the entire basket going to one lucky winner. During this particular Christmas season, we were feeling our usual holiday-season financial pinch. In fact, we have come to believe that we have a Christmas curse. If an extra expense or lack of funds is going to happen for us, it usually does just before Christmas. And it does so more often than not. But we have our home and each other, so we are more fortunate than many.

Anyway, it was about ten days before Christmas, and a member of the basket-raffling team came to me, asking if I would like to buy some tickets. She was one of the sweetest, kindest people I knew, so I had a hard time resisting. I looked at her and said that if she told me I would win, I would buy the tickets. She smiled sweetly and said, "Katrina, you are going to win!" I gave her the last five dollars in my pocket and went about my business. 

On the Saturday before Christmas, with us down to about seven dollars in our bank account, Trent headed out to get the mail. He was expecting his long-term disability check to be there, just in time for Christmas. He came back a few minutes later holding the letter that came instead of a payment. The letter that said there had been some clerical errors and resulting overpayments, so there would be no check this month. Or the next several months. We were crushed. My first worry was that we had invited a couple of people over for Christmas dinner because we knew that they couldn't be with their families. What would we feed them, I wondered. I asked Trent, who said that at least they would be with someone, and they'd probably be happy if we fed them peanut butter and jelly.

I went back to work the next Monday and tried not to think about the situation. The week went quickly, and one day the sweet girl from the raffle team showed up at my desk with her usual shy, sweet smile. "Guess what, Katrina? I wanted to be the one to tell you. You won the basket!" I was stunned. When I went over to her team's area to get it, they were all pleased for me because most of them had been in at least one of my training classes. Little did they know that this basket was to be our only Christmas gift.

In addition to some movies, treats, games, and other items, there were a couple of five-dollar gift cards to Target. I was so excited that I called Trent to let him know. With the few dollars that we had in our bank account and the gift cards we had in the basket, we were able to provide a steak dinner for our Christmas guests. To add to the blessings bestowed upon us, we found out that we had a small financial windfall on Christmas Eve night. Trent had been having money deducted from every paycheck in order to have an extra week of vacation time to match my three weeks per year. Since he was on leave, the accrued amount was deposited into our account. The saddest Christmas ended up being among the best.

To this day, when we feel the financial stress the worst, we always agree that there is someone who needs a few dollars more than we do. When we pick up the bag of groceries for our holiday meal, we try to donate enough to buy some food for someone else's table as well. We don't need filet mignon to have a holiday meal that is delicious to the taste. Giving somebody else a full stomach lends a lot of flavor to whatever we end up eating.



A note from the Lunatic: At holidays or any other time, it breaks my heart to think of children being hungry. As children in our family, most of the time we lived with our parents we barely had enough food. Please keep this in mind when you might have an opportunity to help others.