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Reason for the Season: Gifts for poor families at Christmas
an article by Holly Mehr

This winter I went home to Minneapolis and found myself in need. Amid all the hustle and bustle of the holiday I took time out to help those who are often over looked during this time of cheer. Through the generous gift from several corporations, myself and twenty other family members gathered to surprise 40 poor families with food, gifts and fully decorated, artificial trees.

The next eight hours were some of the most memorable of my life. I watched parents and children alike overflowing with excitement, joy, and appreciation. One little boy spotted his unwrapable new bike and rode around the block in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Without such donations, many of the families would have no gifts, no tree, and bare shelves.

I feel this experience may have been the little extra help these families needed to continue to raise beautiful children in a loving environment. One large family piled into the living room to help set up the rather complicated tree. The smallest of the children could hardly contain their excitement. Robin, the "second biggest little kid" pulled me upstairs to show me her cat. She insisted that we bring him downstairs so he could see "the prettiest tree ever invented." I can't help but feel the human interactions and feelings of togetherness and hope we shared where more important than the material gifts. The families shared with us as well. Many told us stories of their past holidays, differences in their traditional celebrations and those of America, and I even got a few cookies.

Through my experience, I learned I was in need as well. It is easy to get lost in everyday life and forget the importance of human connection. All kinds of divisions can be erased when people come together in love.


Question(s) related to this article:

Does charity promote a culture of peace?, For the giver? for those who receive?

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Latest reader comment:

Comments received previously about this article have focused on different issues. Several people noted that the primary focus of the article was on the importance of volunteering and its value for those who give of their time as well as for the recipients of the charity.

But there were expressed concerns about the impact of these gifts emphasizing the powerlessness of the providers of the families: "I just wonder how harmful such charity can be towards the feelings of self worth in these families." Even with such concerns, however, people applauded the charity generally: "I definitely feel that it is a good thing to donate such gifts, but I feel that it would be more beneficial if the gifts were given to the parents who in turn gave them to their children."

Several comments questioned the use of corporate gifts for charity. Can they be seen as diversions to distract people from the extent to which exploit the vulnerability of poor people? "It seems even poor families have exposure to tv. And tv commercials expose poor kids to a colossal plethora of toys and games that are presented as 'must haves'. On this basis alone, it may be a good point that the promoters of desires that cannot be fulfilled should make an effort to fill the empty lives of poor children."

As there is a lot of suspicion of the motives behind corporate giving, the executives and boards of corporations who do act out of generous motives need understand they must be articulate about what they are doing and why, and possibly even expect not too much gratitude over the short term, until the public perception changes.

This report was posted on April 22, 2002.