Keep up the good work

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, I often cringe pulling into the parking lots of retail stores. Not because it’s like driving on the Southeast Expressway at rush hour, although it is like that. It’s because I’m always leery of who is out front holding a container, asking for a donation.

Some of these solicitors, whether children or adult, indeed have legitimate and worthy causes. Others seem a bit sketchy. But frankly, either way, it does irritate me.

My irritation doesn’t stem from the fact that I don’t want to help those in need, it’s just that sometimes I can’t afford to give at that time, or I don’t have any cash on my person. So when I walk past and I hear, “Would you like to donate to fill in the blank here?” I awkwardly respond, “No thank you.”

Really? No thank you? What does that mean? No, but thank you for wanting my money? What I’m trying to say is that I’m very uncomfortable when I don’t give, and I don’t like being put in that situation.

Actually, that issue arises in my own home. Every day, except Sunday, I go to the mail box (or the box of evil as I affectionately refer to it), and lo and behold, there they are: the plethora of envelopes from every charity imaginable — more so around Christmas, but by and large it’s a very common occurrence year-round.

I guess if one donates to one charity, everyone else wants a piece of your pie, even though your pie is not that big.

We do give monthly to a couple of causes; my favorite being St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and we sponsor a child in Africa — both of which we’ve been hooked up with for years.

But like my awkward exits from area retail stores, I feel guilty tossing the requests into the circular file. Especially since I remove the enclosed free note pads or address labels meant to spur me into action.

But we do struggle at times to make ends meet. Everything just keeps going up in cost. There are times when my dollars are stretched so thin that George Washington looks like the Cheshire Cat.

But this column isn’t about my woes. We know we have it so much better than so many out there.

This long intro was meant to segue into an encounter I had coming out of a grocery market this week.

As usual the Salvation Army is out in full force during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

It just so happened that I did have cash available to shove into the red kettle. As an aside to the Salvation Army, I love the work you do, but it’s so difficult to get the money into your kettles. Perhaps a slightly larger opening?

Anyway, back to my encounter. I crammed the money into the kettle and engaged in conversation with the soldier keeping watch.

I hate to admit that sometimes I judge the people who are asking me for money. My mind goes through myriad scenarios of what these people are like. That is so not right to do. As Pope Francis once said, “Who am I to judge?”

I cut through my prejudices and spoke to this woman as if she were a human being — and she was!

After exchanging pleasantries and wishing each other a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and invoking God’s blessings on each other, I turned and walked away.

I stopped, and turned back and added, “Keep up the good work!”

Immediately, like in one of those Christmas cartoons from the 60s, I felt a warmth inside. I knew that hit a nerve with her, and a good one at that.

I could tell that she appreciated being appreciated. I’m sure it’s not easy standing out there, sometimes in cold, wet, windy conditions, and I’m doubly sure it’s not easy to be the object of others’ judgments.

She spoke a quiet, but grateful, “thank you.” Earlier in our conversation when wishing each other well, she said, “I’m sure I’ll see you again.” I hope so.

In the meantime, there’s a whole Army out there at scores of stores, ringing bells and seeking donations to help the needy.

I’m going to try to make a point of having a couple of dollars in my pocket to wedge into their kettles. And just as importantly, I’m going to encourage them to keep up the good work. 

It doesn’t cost a thing, but it’s priceless nonetheless.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts