Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings, brightly wrapped presents under Christmas trees, bicycles, and tricycles – it’s supposed to be a wonderful time of year. It’s when we find a few hours in our crazy, jam-packed schedules to share Thanksgiving meals and help deliver packages to go under the Christmas tree.
While we’re honored to be a part of high-touch giving at this time of year, we sometimes struggle with the truth about who needs the help. Unfortunately, the effect of fast-rising prices, families still struggling after the impact of COVID, grinding poverty, and unexpected events that change everything means our neighbors down the street and across the community – families with children of all ages – need extra help this time of year.
We mean well, but when we show up to help, we’re surprised to see who is on the delivery list or in the serving line. We struggle to understand what we see and wonder how they got there.
Part of our challenge is that they often look like us, and despite life’s circumstances, they put their best face forward, sometimes wearing their best clothes. It’s not the way we expect extreme need or poverty to look.
Two Short Stories from High Touch Volunteers
Once I overheard several friends discussing their experience serving Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army Hope Kitchen. There were questions about whether everyone who came through the line was in need; evidently, several were overdressed for a free meal for the homeless.
The catch was that not all were homeless, but most would certainly be counted among the poor.
And that reminded me of a distant conversation where friends described Christmas present deliveries to families through PATH, an emergency assistance program. One person was very disturbed about the size of the family television.
Cars, fancy jeans, and televisions are a poor barometer of circumstances.
Have you had an experience like that? You volunteered or gave to an organization with one expectation in mind, only to be surprised by the outcome or your experience.
In both instances, what began as a good feeling about helping someone in need turned to donor disappointment.
The Not-So-Easy Solution that Challenges our Deepest Beliefs
Here’s the solution – trust and respect. Trust that the organizations doing the work are doing the right things at the right time and respect the people caught in life stories we cannot comprehend.
Listening to my friends made me realize that trust and respect were low on both days, while donor disappointment was high.
Side-step Donor Disappointment
It is easier to have respect for people from a different culture or country an ocean away, but what about a different neighborhood right around the corner? Respect for feelings, rights, wishes, or traditions is a value we need to spread generously. By believing in the agencies where we volunteer, trust becomes an added value to protect us from donor disappointment.
Poverty is complex, whether slipping into poverty, being born poor, or trying to climb out of poverty, it’s beyond the everyday understanding and experiences of most of us. So, my hope for you, me, and those we come in touch with is that our generosity will overflow with trust and respect.
You will have many opportunities to give between now and the end of the year. If volunteering during the holidays is on your list, then this is your chance to choose trust and respect. And when you can count those two values amidst all you believe to be important about giving, you will be a better giver.
How do you like to volunteer during the holidays? We’d all love to hear about your experiences.
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