Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bell Ringers and Abundance

Top: Los Altos Volunteer Bell Ringer Stephanie Tran and her young daughter. 
Bottom: Bell Ringer Keith and Saratoga High School Student Donor Patrick

Keith tells me that he is one of the paid bell ringers. His father, a volunteer bell ringer, sits on the local Salvation Army board of trustees. Keith's kettle at the Saratoga Safeway brings in about $200 per day during the holiday season. The organization provides year-round food and shelter to needy families in the community. Serendipitously, Patrick is one of my Sunday School students who took me up on the challenge to give a dollar this week--when I was interviewing Keith! Stephanie says she and her daughter volunteer for a 2-hour shift, and will be relieved by another set of volunteer holiday bell ringers outside Starbuck's in Los Altos, CA. It's a good volunteer experience for her to do with her young daughter on a sunny day.
I still take the morning newspaper, call me old-fashioned but I like to turn the pages and read--not click--at my leisure. Have you seen the Mercury News lately? The ad inserts are twice as heavy as the actual news. Holiday flyers and coupons are flung onto my driveway daily, with an extra dose on the weekends. The paper is buried somewhere, I guess that's what keeps the Knight-Ridder afloat for now. 

Years ago, as a thirty-something mom with four young children and a struggling small business, I decided the newspaper ads were causing me to feel stress that I didn't have a fraction of what was being promoted and my needs were growing faster than my bank account. At one point, sitting on my tattered blue sofa in a sparse living room in Salt Lake City I took my pile of inserts--with their money-saving coupons--and ditched them into the garbage. I never looked back and haven't missed their annoying presence as a reminder of all I don't have. 

The truth is, I have everything I need, as most of us do without realizing. It's the spirit of Abundance. Three years ago, shopping for Christmas gifts I walked from the parking lot toward Nordstrom. I found myself avoiding the Salvation Army bell ringer near the front door. While searching the store for something special I could hear the little bell constantly ringing outside, a faint accompaniment to the in-house pianist playing carols near the escalator. It was like a scene from "It's a Wonderful Life," trying not to hear the sound as it reached a crescendo in my heart and mind. 

Instead of buying a sixty-dollar gift that day, I spent thirty and then made a personal vow: To live in the spirit of abundance every holiday season, I would continue to avoid those pesky newspaper ads and instead I would give a single dollar bill to every Salvation Army bell ringer I encountered. I would not allow myself to shy away and take the other entrance, nor make excuses of how this might break the bank. Adding it up that first holiday season I gave just about $30 to the bell ringers, a dollar at a time and totaling no more than I would have spent on the gift I was shopping for that day. I don't remember who received the $30 gift instead of a $60 dollar one, and I'm sure they can't remember what I gave. But I know how incredibly blessed I felt by sharing my relative abundance with an organization that does much good for the truly needy in the community. It's my own little Christmas-time tradition, a reminder that we do have everything we need and by not over-consuming we can give to those with more pressing needs than what those glossy holiday advertisements would have us believe. 

Looking for fun ways to share your abundance this holiday?
Check these out!

Salvation Army Christmas Kettles: Aid for Needy Families, Seniors, & Homeless  

Help Children and Families: Give to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund 

Help a Needy Child Provide Gifts for His or Her Own Family with Sunday Friends 

Fulfill a Child's Wish This Christmas with Family Giving Tree 

 San Jose Mercury News Wishbook 2011: To aid 25 deserving individuals & agencies

Give the Gift of Reading this holiday season: RAFT, Resource Area for Teachers Book Drive 

Help Local Families in Need (Goal $100K)
Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto:
P.O. Box 51874
Palo Alto, CA 94303