This I believe: It is better to give than receive. It was one of my mother’s often quoted chestnuts of wisdom. But before my 28th Christmas I didn’t really understand the meaning of this adage or how it could be true. How could giving away something be better than getting something? It didn’t make sense to me.
I was working as reporter at a small, weekly newspaper in the town of Barnwell, SC when I fielded a call from a pizza shop owner in the town of Williston who had just started a food and toy drive for the town’s poor children. I was more than happy to do a story about this lady and her mission, not out of altruism but because it provided me with a seasonally relevant story that I could knock out quickly.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t rooting for her to succeed. I was hoping my story could help her make Christmas brighter for those kids. A couple of months before, I had had toured the town with Iris Campbell, who was the state’s first lady at the time. Williston, for the most part, was a prosperous little town. Many of its residents worked at the Savannah River Site, a sprawling government complex that processed radioactive metals for nuclear weapons. But tucked away out of sight in this bastion of mostly upper-middle-class brick homes with well-cared-for lawns were several square blocks of the most devastating poverty that I had ever seen in this country. For some reason the hundred or so mostly black people that lived there, including numerous children, had missed out on the economic boom of the Cold War’s nuclear arms race.
The pizza shop owner, who had only been working on her charity drive for a couple of days, had only a can a ham, a Barbie and a Big Wheel to show for her efforts. I took a couple of photos and did my story, just the basics – who, what, where, when and how readers could contribute to the cause.
The pizza lady enthusiastically invited me back to her shop that day after the story ran. To my amazement it was crammed from floor to ceiling with food and brand new toys. In a few seconds upon seeing this magnificent bounty I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I started to tremble. I excused myself, got inside my car and wept tears of joy. After about 10 minutes of non-stop crying, I regained my composure, wiped the tears and snot off my face and went back inside. No gifts I had received, blessings bestowed on me or incidents of good fortune had made me feel as wonderful as I did at that moment. I was so grateful to have played a small role in the success of this charitable venture. I gave a little of myself and was rewarded with immeasurable joy.
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