I believe in lifting each other up. God intends that of us, and I’m grateful that He put it in my heart to help. But, I’m only a secretary — it’s not like I have lots of money to give. So how can I make a difference? Well, I definitely need to be creative. Following are some of the ways I have found to reach out and give others a hand up without breaking the bank, if even just by the smallest gesture. Hopefully these ideas give you inspiration to discover your own special way of giving.
I have a “closet” on PoshMark, the app designed for selling clothing. Posh is like Craigslist for fashion. Lots of women on PoshMark are single mothers, struggling students, or retired. And they’re selling second-hand clothes out of their own closets to try to make ends meet, much like myself. One day, without even realizing I was doing it, I had begun buying items from the closets of women who I could tell really needed the help. I felt for them and wanted to encourage them. I didn’t need the items I was buying; I was just buying them to help the ladies earn money. So, since I didn’t need what I was buying, I decided to turn around and gift those items — to neighbors, co-workers, homeless ladies on the corner, or to local charities. I realized that, by buying one item, I was helping two people — the seller who needed the money, and the receiver who needed the gift. I have continued this practice whenever my paycheck allows. A purchase on PoshMark may not seem like the world’s greatest charitable act, but it makes a difference to the two people involved.
Every year in December, when I get my Christmas bonus from work, I have always donated to national and international non-profit organizations: Mercy for Animals, Live Action, Charity Water, American Wild Horse Campaign, Tim Tebow Foundation, Family Research Council, Students For Life, PETA, etc. As a thank-you for my donations, these organizations send me logo gifts, such as umbrellas, water bottles, backpacks, insulated lunch bags, blankets, sport seat cushions, etc. I put those gifts in my car to have on hand whenever I see a homeless person that can use them. When Arizona monsoons or the hot Arizona sun bear down, the umbrellas are an ideal gift to give homeless folks comfort and protection from extreme elements as they wait hopefully on the sidewalks for some measure of help. In the Arizona heat, insulated lunch bags are a lifesaver too. Even in Arizona, the winter nights are cold, and the homeless are always grateful for the warm blankets.
It’s hard to tell these days if panhandlers are genuine or not. Often times, wealthy people sit curbside and panhandle, hiding their new SUV or Mercedes around the corner behind some trees. I have been fooled myself by such an actor or two. At first, I was upset that I was being scammed, so I thought to stop giving altogether. Then I realized that it wasn’t for me to decide who was deserving and who wasn’t. It also would not have been fair to those on the streets who really do need the help. It was my duty to simply give as God leads, and nothing more. So I have made it part of my routine. I keep an ice cooler with blue ice packs in my car to fill with carrots, beef jerky, bottled water, juices, cheese sticks, crackers, fruit, trailmix, and I give them to people on the corners. If I have cash left over after paying my bills, I wrap $5 or $10 bills around the water bottles with rubberbands. I also hand out socks, hand towels, dog food (lots of homeless folks have pets), and other such items. I figure, whether the person is genuine or not — in this heat, they still need water and food to stand out there, and it’s not for me to judge. God will honor my giving if I have the right heart. I also realized that, even tho I can’t help every homeless person, I can help those that God places in front of me. Always watch for those special moments.
One very important thing I discovered when I interact with the homeless is to take time to make eye contact with them, shake their hand, and ask them their name. Don’t be afraid to shake their hand, and ALWAYS ask their name. That seemingly smallest of gestures can be the greatest gift they receive. There’s something life-affirming about being called by your name. When I say their name and ask them something about themselves, their faces always light up. First out of surprise, I imagine, then joy. It’s always a very tender moment and is special to them and me both. They realize that someone “sees” them — really “sees” them. They understand that I am acknowledging them as a person, a precious life, my equal, someone of value to God and to me, not something disgusting to be side-stepped or just a drive-by opportunity to give a quick, impersonal hand-out that might score me points in Heaven. Never be afraid to derail your busy agenda to share yourself with a stranger — that’s your chance to show Jesus. On a few occasions, I have parked my car and invited a homeless person to step inside the McDonald’s on the corner and share a lunch with me. As we sit in the dining area enjoying the decadent fast food together, the conversation is honest and enlightening, and both of us walk away with renewed perspective. Best half-hour spent. Don’t be afraid to hear their story. And always wish them God’s blessings before you go. This has become the priceless gift I can give that costs me nothing, yet lifts us both up and lets Jesus shine. Some of them remember me whenever I pass by again, and a couple have even reached into my car, taken my hand, and prayed for me! How unexpectedly and beautifully God works! Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do it. Say not to your neighbor, Go and come back tomorrow, then I will give, when you have it by you to give now. Proverbs 4:27-28.
I was bullied as a child. It was sad and awful. I was a skinny little beanpole, timid, autistic, afraid of my own shadow. Talk about an easy target. The rough girls at school would beat me up and lock me in the equipment room with all the basketballs and jump ropes. Or shove me into an empty locker, where I sat quietly, frozen in fear, until I heard the bell ring and the last voice in the hallway go quiet. Then I would knock softly hoping a teacher or janitor would rescue me before the mean girls came back. I lived in constant fear and sadness and loneliness. So I am intimately familiar with the pain of being tormented by unkind people. Because of that hard-earned insight, I am hyper-sensitive to picking up on sadness and defeat in others who are bullied as well, and I try to lift them up and encourage them. I eventually became known in my circle of friends as “Mama Duck.” I’m not a counselor or licensed therapist, I’m just someone who’s been there and feels your heart. It’s important to use our personal experiences to help others suffering in the same way — to “pay forward” lessons from our sad memories to encourage someone in the present. It turns a hurtful experience for both of us into a victorious and happy gift. Encouragement is a gift that costs literally nothing, but yields priceless benefits. Never ever hesitate to reach out to someone who’s being bullied. Your kindness may be the gift that changes their life for the better. He is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18.
I took care of Helen until she passed several years ago. Helen was 76 years old, a very short, very round, very rude and sassy little Italian/Czech lady originally from New York, with a heart as big as Texas. She had no family here in Phoenix. We met when I moved into the home next to hers at 32nd Street and Camelback Road. As I was unloading boxes from my car, Helen came slowly waddling up my sidewalk unannounced, shuffling along in rainbow-colored flip-flop slippers with fur pompoms on the toes, wearing a fuzzy, dirty, thread-bare robe, the belt tie hanging loosely off to her side, and one hot pink velcro hair roller hanging on precariously over her eyebrows to a few strands of wirey gray hair. She was dragging a loud clunky oxygen tank along behind her and, as she got close, she threw an orange from her citrus tree that hit me square in the chest. I remember standing speechless for a moment while she just grinned sideways at me, then finally introduced herself. She knew she looked silly, and she didn’t care. I could tell when she gave me a chin-up nod and a wink that it was as funny to her as it was to me. God I loved her for that. We became family instantly. She was the mother I didn’t have, and I was the daughter who watched over her. Helen had many health issues, but was not to be slowed down. She forged ahead and still managed to get around, albeit with lots of help. But she still carried herself proud. At her direction, I took her grocery shopping, to the doctor, the pharmacist, and to her swimming classes at the local gym where she mostly just bobbed up and down and chatted up the other senior ladies while rocking her rubber swim cap with big canary yellow flowers, blissfully ignoring the instructor’s pleas to swim back to her own space and stop disrupting the class. There were lunches, shopping at Ross on Senior Tuesdays, or just an easy-going evening drive to look at Christmas lights. I was always on-call for Helen. Sometimes her paper shredder was jammed, or she couldn’t reach the punch bowl above her refrigerator, or her toilet ran over at midnight, or she couldn’t find her mailbox key.
These are the things seniors need help with, and I never begrudged her any of it, even though I was pretty darned tired at times. Sometimes she needed her feet or shoulders rubbed … and sometimes she just didn’t want to be alone. Typically about once a week, mostly on Fridays, when I pulled into my driveway after work, there was Helen on my doorstep, her arms wrapped tightly around a big glass jug of really cheap drugstore wine, wearing a sly grin, and waiting just for me. Those were the special nights. Helen would drink the whole bottle of wine, and we would sit there and laugh — at everything and everybody. Nothing was off-limits. We were irreverent and silly, we laughed till we cried, she’d wet her pants, the whole room smelled of vinegar wine, and it was priceless. Other times we just sat together quietly, savoring the comfort and warmth of our friendship. Even though it all began with me showing kindness to someone who needed it, these memories have become the gifts Helen gave me, and I keep them close to my heart. I miss her so much. I wonder now and then if God will give me another Helen.
So there are some ideas to help you get creative and discover your own personal outreach. You don’t have to have lots of money. Bottled water is cheap; an extra bag of carrots or grapes or apples, etc., don’t add that much to your grocery bill. But they make all the difference in the world to the person who receives them from you. Socks, hand towels, etc. can be found at wholesale outlets or yard sales super cheap. Remember, it’s not just the item you give … it’s the time and impulse of your heart that make the gift real. Those are the “real” gifts and don’t come from your wallet at all. To give just an hour or two of yourself here and there for an elderly neighbor, a disabled veteran, a lonely timid child — trust me, it will change you forever. Kindness, given out of God’s love, is the greatest gift of all.
Enjoy giving. Learn to love one another, no matter how small the gesture or gift. Don’t think for a minute that it will go unnoticed. Kindness cannot be overstated, especially in today’s social climate of anger and hostility. One little light — that’s all it takes. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll find yourself a Helen too.
God Bless Us All. 🙂