Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kindness for the season

Tim comes down to stay with my family tonight. I'm still not sure what my mother thinks of the whole event. The fact that she's gone out to try and find a gift for him means a lot to me. I hope she will be accepting of him and happy that I'm happy. I probably should ask her, but we've never been that initmate and open with our conversations. I figure she'll tell me what she's thinking in our first post-Xmas phone call.

I'm happy he's coming down to visit. We're going to have a full house and for once I'll really feel like it's something close to what the average American experiences during the holidays. We'll eat some good Asian food, watch a good football game (hopefully), and play Wii until our arms hurt.


Last week I volunteered with C3 for a local charity. We thought we would be spending our afternoon in a big, empty warehouse wrapping gifts. We walked into this huge, vacant building and a concrete floor covered with rows of gifts. The wrapping paper rolls were all off to the side.

It turns out, the first thing that needs to be done is a sorting of the gifts by charity and by child. Because the tags that go out to companies and stores don't all come back (about a 50% return rate), the organization puts out two gift requests per child.

Our job was to sort through the gifts, write up tags for children who are missing gifts, and pull duplicate gifts from the row. It's interesting to compare what people buy for the same gift tag. Sometimes it was identical, sometimes they were different sizes (cost?), and for more challenging gifts it was a matter of prioritizing the basic item wanted versus the color or brand the child requested.

Probably the most fun part was "shopping" for the missing gifts. Eventually all the duplicates and non-specific donations are organized in a section of the warehouse. You literally get to take your shopping list and pick out gifts.

My first gift tag read, "star globe or star map." My first thought was, "there's no way I'm going to find this. What could I choose as a close alternative?" My eyes gravitated towards the stacks of legos and art kits thinking maybe there'd be something useful there. And then I realized they had three carts of books, organized by subject. I saw the science books and quickly scanned the section to find ONE book on stargazing. Awesome!

One group of girls proved particularly challenging. They all wanted Betty Boop items such as blankets. Of the four who asked for items, only one came through. Not only did the giver buy the doll she wanted, they added a great tote bag. I was impressed since I would have no idea where to go for such stuff. I had no idea Betty Boop was popular again.

We did find a Betty Boop watch and a notebook with Betty Boop on the cover. We debated what was more important - did they need the blanket to keep warm for the winter, or were the girls just looking for Betty Boop? In the end, we decided to be boring and practical with blankets or the secondary boom boxes they listed.

The most hilarious request of the afternoon was a six-year-old who wanted a pogo stick. C3 wondered where he could have gotten such an idea. I suggested he saw some stunt show and wanted one. It wasn't a surprise that we couldn't find one. I wanted to give him a substitute that still represented something active and outdoors. We considered a small skateboard but didn't know if his mother would like another dangerous toy. In the end, I grabbed a Nerf rocket set.

C3 was just fascinated by the variety of gifts that kids receive these days. She hasn't ever had to buy toys and had no idea how electronic toys have become even for the youngest. In one batch of toys we had to find Vtech notebook computers for four kids under 8 years old. We scoured the piles of duplicates hoping to find one last notebook to finish our list. And wouldn't you know, we found a duplicate pogo stick. For a moment, we considered taking it for the six-year-old, but the box said for ages 9-99, so we decided he was too young for it and left it. What are the odds of another kid getting a pogo stick!??

I wish I could have spent more days volunteering. It's really fun to do something good. There's a lot of debate about charity because you don't always know that the items, be it food, clothing, or toys, are really being given to people who need them versus being resold for cash. For the holidays at least, I have to believe that these will be items appreciated by kids. I am especially happy to give my time to people who ask for simple things like jeans, a jacket, or basic clothing because you know they need it.

Happy holidays to everyone however you spend this time of the year!

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