Holiday giving is heartwarming. There are so many opportunities to reach out into the community and do something generous for a neighbor.
I don’t think there is any easier time of year to jump right into the act of giving. Walk into the grocery store and drop some bills into an iconic red kettle, stand in the checkout line and donate a turkey, adopt a child or a senior citizen from an angel tree and select a gift to make their holiday brighter.
Join with others from your neighborhood or workplace and provide a special holiday for a family that is struggling, donate toys to a local toy drive or food to an animal shelter, smile at a busy shopper who might look to be having a bad day, the chances to reach out are abundant.
These things make us feel great and connect us to our fellow man. Most of the time we never meet those that we intend to comfort and help this time of year.
That kind of relationship building happens at the nonprofit level with caring case managers, cause area specialists, and volunteers. These are the folks working on the front lines of need and opportunity and create a special combination of resources and compassion.
If we are on the giving side of things it can be easy to unintentionally get caught up in the emotion of how we feel about our donation and lose site of the receiver. Research continually points to the physical and emotional benefits of generosity, but that is only one side of the story.
I learned this lesson several years ago when I joined a group of friends and colleagues to provide a full-on holiday experience to a family that had faced a particularly tough year financially.
We could not have been more excited about buying a tree, toys for the kids and a holiday dinner. Better yet, we were going to ride in like Santa Claus and set up the tree, put out the gifts and stock the fridge with food. We even bought hats and festive t-shirts to add to the excitement.
Maybe you notice how many times I used the word “we” in that last paragraph. The problem is our “we” did not include the family. We never spoke with them or the organization that had provided their information about how they would have liked to be included.
I don’t think I will ever forget the look on the father’s face as we began the delivery of holiday cheer. The kids were excited and hugging us and thanking us for their gifts and the tree. The Dad was appreciative and kind but clearly it was breaking his heart that the kids were looking to strangers for what he wanted to provide for his family. We had thought of everything that day except for his dignity.
It was one of those moments in life that I wish I had a do-over button. My friends and I could have just as easily reached out to the Mom and Dad, met them in a parking lot down the road and given them the opportunity to pull up to the house with the holiday fun. We had never even thought to ask.
My well- intentioned friends and I had let our own excitement get in the way of what was right for this family.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, we work with donors to design and execute their charitable gifts during this most generous wonderful time of the year and although we may never meet the ultimate recipients of these gifts, that one father’s face is never far from my mind as we consider not only the giver but the receiver as well. I am so appreciative of the amazing nonprofits in our community who build relationships and shared goals with those they serve.
May we all add the gift of dignity to our holiday lists this year and celebrate the beautiful season together.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, the Foundation partnered with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, we’ve invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, visit www.FloridaCommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.