After my year of incredible blessings, I promised I would take the spirit of holiday giving to new heights. (See blog “Be a Rick” http://volunteeraugusta.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/be-a-rick ) So now is the moment of truth; it is time to admit if my actions covered the big check my words wrote. The final report for Project Holiday 2011 is simply this: Mission Accomplished. But I gotta tell you, I am utterly exhausted.
My mantra for the season echoed the movie “Yes Man”. I would say yes to each opportunity that was presented, and seek out different ways to help. For example, every retail store cashier asking for a charity donation got my money. One shocked cashier at Publix, after selling me a $5 bag of food for the needy, yelled at his co-worker across the store, “I finally sold one!” In truth, his sales pitch had been so flat and quiet, that I barely understood what he was asking. I believe it went like this (imagine an almost inaudible voice): “Would you like to buy a something-something for something-something?” I learned that he had tried all day with no success, and his discouragement had contributed to a selling style I now affectionately refer to as, “half-hearted mumbling”. My positive reply to his request is what we in the car business refer to as a “lay-down”, meaning that the sale was going to happen no matter what. You have to really make a major faux-pas to alienate a lay-down buyer, nothing short of cursing or spitting will cause them to say no.
I was a lay-down for volunteering also. Every request for donating my time was answered in the affirmative. Ring the bell for Salvation Army? Sure! Help sort donated toys for needy families? Absolutely! Deliver food to elderly shut-ins? You bet. I also sought out the chance to work at the soup kitchen a couple of times. At the mention of any charity needing help recruiting volunteers, I would start sending email blasts and making facebook posts. My poor friends were probably thinking, “Enough already! We get that you like to volunteer, but do you have to always drag us into your reindeer games?”
My co-workers were recruited into the reindeer games, as well. They joined me in the toy-sorting and bell-ringing volunteer gigs, and were all amazingly generous and helpful. When asked to sponsor needy kids, and they stepped up to the plate. Normally my dealership is good for 3-4 kids, tops. This year we covered 18. There was some last-minute scrambling to get it pulled together, but we did it. One of them even told me why our efforts meant so much to him: 35 years ago, he was on the receiving end. He knew what it was like to have a shoe box of donated toys. When you realize that each toy, each volunteer hour, each donated dollar, makes a difference to a real child on Christmas day, it hits home. Sometimes when I am shopping for an adopted kid and think that I have enough, I visualize that child on Christmas morning. Perhaps just one more small gift will be the item that really makes them happy. Maybe they will be excited to receive some play-dough, or some markers, or a slinky, the way I always was when I was that age.
Finally, I convinced my company to take the typical donation drive to the next level. This was not hard to do, as Jim Hudson Lexus is passionate about community service. But I’m not sure even they imagined what I had in mind. While we had frequently held a toy drive, or food drive, or a collection of travel-size toiletries, we had never coordinated a full-on effort to collect everything at once. That is what we did with our “15 Gifts of Christmas” campaign. We found 15 charities who needed various items, and agreed to help recruit those donations. We promoted the need for the community to donate everything from socks for Rape Crisis, to diapers for SafeHomes, to tshirts for Hale House and crayons for the Art Factory. All totaled, 15 non-profits asking for a combination of 30 different items. We set up a huge Santa Sleigh display right at the front door, and pushed for donations for a solid month. Every time a customer or friend (or my mom!) came in with more items, we were thrilled. These were all items these organizations needed, and by getting them donated, it was one less thing they had to buy.
In the end, I am very pleased with the 2011 Christmas charity campaign. Of course, the downside is that I have not done one thing for my own holiday, so there is some catching-up to be done with my personal shopping and decorating. But overall, despite the exhaustion and the personal delays, I am proud to report that I was able to reach my goal of aggressive giving-back activities. Who knows, when my shopping is done, I may even take a cue from the generous K-Mart shoppers who are anonymously paying off stranger’s Christmas layaways. Seems like lots of people were blessed in 2011 and wanted to give back, too. It is, after all, what Christmas is all about.