“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” – Booker T. Washington
As we move into the holiday season, we’re going to be asked by a lot of charitable organizations to give of our money, time and service. With everything else swirling around us during the holiday season, giving any more of ourselves can seem really hard. Who isn’t caught up with a million other responsibilities and no time in which to do them? Who really feels like they have extra energy to give? Who has extra money around the holidays anyway?
I had been “shopping” for a good charitable cause in which to become involved for many years. All of the charities I tried out were and are wonderful organizations that really help people but I just didn’t feel passionate about any of them. My involvement felt like one more thing on my “To Do” list, rather than something that excited me.
The practice of charitable cause “shopping” did, however, enable me to finally figure out what sort of charitable giving energized me. I found out that I wanted to be close enough to the person I was helping to see tangible results and I wanted my helping to be long-term. I also wanted my helping to be fun. And, as it turns out, my helping had to do with food.
If you’ve known me for more than about five minutes, you know I love everything about food. I like to eat it, cook it, grow it, read recipes, watch TV shows about it, talk about it and look at pictures of it. I love to plan meals, take cooking classes with friends and entertain at home.
I became this way for a variety of reasons, but I think my experience of not having enough to eat in my late teens and early twenties was a big influence. I was on my own at seventeen and my weekly food budget was only $13. I learned that scarcity in regard to food can be a very draining and scary feeling.
Despite my regular diet of peanut butter and jelly, I once bought cherry pie with a lattice crust on sale at the grocery store. I don’t even really care for cherry pie but I distinctly remember the feeling of abundance I experienced when I would peer at the lovely lattice crust. I would often open the refrigerator door just to look at the pie! As strange as it may sound, when I looked at that pie, I felt reassured that I would one day have more than enough.
Ever since then, I have always felt that if someone just has a cherry pie with a lovely lattice crust in their fridge, they will experience the same reassurance that I felt all those years ago. So, I approached the principal of an elementary school in my city to see if she could recommend a particular family that struggled with hunger. At a school in which almost 100% of the children live below the poverty line, the principal quickly came up with a family that needed the help. For about the past year I have been cooking a few meals a month for The Family and dropping them at the school in the morning. I am having a ball.
I have finally found a way to give that I am passionate about and it really energizes me. I revel in every menu plan. I love to find ways to sneak lots of healthy fruits and vegetables into every meal. I also indulge my own love of dessert making and treat the family with homemade ice cream and yes, the occasional cherry pie with lattice crust. I now have The Family in mind when reading cookbooks and watching my beloved Food Channel.
Recently I received a letter from The Family saying how helpful the food has been for them. We are now communicating back and forth about which foods the kids like or don’t like. Fortunately they are pretty excited about everything I’ve made and I really am happy that they enjoy it. I feel I have come full circle from the 17 year old who was concerned about finding enough to eat to helping someone else avoid the same feeling.
Everybody has something that someone else needs, right now. Helping others, whether “officially” through a charitable organization or informally helping out someone who needs what you have to give, is so satisfying. You may not be able to write big checks but you can give of your time or expertise. The simple act of cleaning out your closets and donating gently used clothing to a charitable organization is a way many of us can help. Charitable giving doesn’t have to be a regularly scheduled event but can be something you can do whenever you feel like it.
I went my own way and tapped into an activity that I love and I feel a particular resonance in sharing with others – to their benefit. I thoroughly enjoy cooking for people – and there is a particular satisfaction when the recipient is someone who worries about where their next meal is coming from.
When you find the one gift that truly resonates with you, you will feel energized by it and your giving will not only help someone else but will also give you a boost, too. Couldn’t we all use that during the busy and stressful holiday season?