'Tis the season for giving to others even if you don't have much yourself

Giving to Others in a Bad Economy

by Teena M. Stewart

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November and December are a time of feasting and giving to others in abundance. For many of us, this overflow of goodwill toward family and friends illuminates the plight of the less fortunate who may not have means to celebrate the holidays in this fashion. This year the season may not be as prosperous for many of us due to down turn in the economy. Though finances may dictate frugal holiday spending, we can still reach out to those with less. Here are some ideas for giving to others.

Host your family plus one. Invite a widow, widower, or orphan to join you for a holiday meal. These may not be literal widows/widowers or orphans, but those who are without family at this time of year. The holidays are the loneliest times for those without family nearby. Share the warmth of the season with someone who is alone. The cost of feeding one extra person is minimal compared to the fulfillment it brings for having included them.

Purchase a joint gift. Many churches, synagogues, schools, and charitable organizations have angel trees or wish lists that list specific gifts you can purchase for a needy person. If you don't have funds to purchase the gift on your own, see if a family member or friend will go in with you and split the cost of the gift.

Donate a service. People with limited financial resources often don't have the money needed to maintain what they have. If a lawnmower breaks, they may not have the means to fix it. If they have to decide to spend their money between food and repairing clothing they will have to opt for food. Hair cuts, car maintenance, childcare, and even yard care may be extras they cannot afford. Each of us has our own unique gifts, which have value to others who may not have the ability or means to do what we do well. Consider giving this skill or service away in order to assist someone.

Give used but classy. Support your local charitable thrift stores, such as Salvation Army and Good Will. Many people are reluctant to donate items to these charities because they don't want them to resell them. What they don't realize is that these charities need the money raised from these sales in order to support their ministry. By donating used items to them, you are helping them hire and teach skills to needy people, many of whom are in recovery. In addition, though these stores sell used items, you can find some classy and valuable gifts. You just have to search for the treasure among the trash. My home is beautifully furnished with used items, many of which were found at these stores. Antiques, collectibles, books, knick-knacks, and t-shirts are just some of the great gift items available. Just because it's used doesn't mean it can't be classy.

Make sure it is what they need. My work for two and half years at a women's rescue mission made me aware that many people give what isn't needed. When people think of the homeless, they immediately think of hats, scarves, gloves, and even handmade quilts. Our mission was inundated with them while there were other items we were constantly in need of that we rarely received. At holiday time, folks also wanted to give frozen turkeys or to volunteer on holidays and serve in a soup kitchen, which they assumed was a part of our services. It wasn't.

What many people don't realize is that meals other than turkey are greatly appreciated because of the overabundance of turkey at that time of year. When one lady asked what meal we would like for our day shelter women, we suggested pizza, something the women rarely got and enjoyed. Imagine their delight at the holiday party when pizza was part of the menu.

Give with the right attitude. Don't think that just because someone has less than you and that because you are trying to pinch pennies that giving items in poor condition is okay. If you do choose to give used items, make sure they are clean, current, and in good condition. Cheap grace (giving away broken and dirty items) sends a belittling message to the needy that they are worth very little.

November and December are times when charities receive most of their contributions. Sadly, the rest of the year giving is not on most people's hearts. Summer months especially are bleakest. Keep this in mind throughout the year. Generosity has more to do with attitude than with material wealth. Celebrate the season in your heart year-round.

Teena Stewart is a published author and artist. Her latest book Benevolence: Ministering to the Poor and Needy is available through Beacon Hill. To find out more, www.serendipitini.com.

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