The turkey is in the oven, all the food is prepared, and things are on track for our family dinner in a few hours. While I waited for the pumpkin muffins to bake, I took a moment to leaf through today's Tribune. ”Giving Spirit is Growing” by Robert Mitchum, was on the front page. I couldn’t resist the urge to share, so I’m stealing a few minutes to dash this off before I have to get back to work.
All of us were already well aware of how the latest economic downturn – a cold phrase for such a devastating reality – has increased the pressure on our social service agencies, including food pantries. As I was preparing part two of my alternate gift-giving series this week, I learned that need has risen by 33% across Illinois, while in some localities, it has actually doubled.
The Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) supplies food for 600 food pantries and shelters just within Cook County’s borders. Kate Maehr, executive director of the depository says: “We’ve had a number of calls from people who had been donors but who are now saying that they need help.”
This article is not really about how many more needy people there are. It’s about how people have stepped up to this daunting challenge. Joe S., retired from the Chicago Board of Trade, used to volunteer occasionally at a local food pantry. This summer, he saw a huge jump in demand. He tells the reporter: "It frightens me, the amount of need out there that people don't see. My fear is one day there won't be enough food to go around..." In response, Joe is now driving a delivery truck for GCFD three times a week.
A few other examples in the article may serve to jump start some similar activism by Trib readers. In Naperville, two young brothers, 5 and 9, pitched in, did extra chores, and saved their birthday money to sponsor two turkeys for the People’s Resource Center. Carolyn Gable, CEO of New Age Transportation in suburban Lake Zurich, initiated a drive for a Chicago school where she served as “Principal for a Day” just last month. Together, she and her 60 employees assembled and distributed turkey dinners for 400 Little Village Lawndale High School students and staff to take home in time for Thanksgiving.
The staff at a local retirement community cut back on their annual Christmas party and donated the $3,000 they saved to four local charities.
These stories reminded me of something, two somethings, actually.
My brother John has been part of an informal group that gathers every year to make sandwiches for others. They pack them up and take them down to Union Station on Thanksgiving and Christmas, distributing them to whoever looked hungry. The participants get as much out of the experience as the hungry street people do. And that’s why they show up, year after year.
How giving can be contagious
Earlier today, I dropped in at my neighbor Barbara’s house to pick up some brandy for a recipe for tonight. She commented on my recent article about Heifer International. I told her about the 19-turkey lady and what my brother has done with his friends. Spontaneously, we made a plan to get together and make sandwiches on Christmas Day. I'm sure we’ll enlist others. It took five minutes. It felt right. And this is how giving spreads. A single action can create a thousand ripples and we all benefit.
I’m sure you have a story of your own to tell. Won’t you share it?
In the meantime, a Happy Thanksgiving to us all!