Giving Small

Sandra - Arlington, Virginia
Entered on April 11, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in giving small.

Like any self-respecting pop-culture junkie, I love reading about celebrities and CEOs with their big lives, giving big to big causes. A million for this, 100 million for that…Yikes. Oprah’s built an entire school in Africa and now has a show called “The Big Give” where people compete to see who can raise the most money. Amazing.

Flipping through a decorating magazine, I came across an item honoring individuals who have made a difference in their communities. Ok, here I can relate, right? Nope. Big numbers – thrift shop raising more than a million dollars for charities nationwide; a donation of nearly 250,000 hats for cancer patients; 65,000 pounds of clothing collected for a clothing drive…Wow. People Magazine has a “Heroes Among Us” feature, which is about ordinary people. Ordinary people who do extraordinary things, that is. A recent entry had someone getting 10,000 signatures on a petition for Congress. Impressive.

I always have these “Amazing!” “Awe-inspiring!” reactions to acts of giving big, and that’s the problem. I’m living a small life and thinking about giving small amounts to – well, small causes. Seems pretty un-awe-inspiring – why not just leave it to the big folks, the ones who are putting on the fancy black-tie fundraisers right here in my town that I can’t afford to go to?

Setting out to answer this question, I was surprised how much I learned about the big value of giving small. From my local school system I learned that a $50 gift card can buy a kid a coat who would otherwise just wear his thin jacket all winter; that I could give my old New Year’s Eve sparkly dress to a girl who would otherwise stay home from the prom; and that a $100 check can send a kid on a band trip who would otherwise make up a story about why he’s not going.

From my local battered women’s shelter I found out how much a hair salon gift card is appreciated by a woman who hasn’t had a haircut in a year and how much a bag of groceries can take a huge weight off someone’s shoulders. From my local homeless shelter I was told that the work clothes I’m not wearing any more could help a woman get a job.

And I’m still learning – from organizations all over my town who are thrilled with small donations and small amounts of time to help with things that fall through the cracks – things that are overlooked by the big givers. We need those big givers – God love ‘em. They’re moving mountains. But I believe the rest of us can give small and well, maybe not move mountains – but, ok, hills. It all adds up. I have to go now. Oprah’s on and she’s giving stuff away.