At work, I get a lot of email. Press releases (cars, medicine, summits, children’s products), email telling me I’m great, email telling me I’ve screwed up, email from friends and coworkers and forwards from all of the above. Microsoft Outlook is always up, always ready — and always streaming messages. They never end.
I read all of them, of course, even if I don’t respond right away — especially if I’m on deadline. But every now and then, I get a note that stops me completely and forces me to minimize the Internet (unfathomable). As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a columnist. I write biweekly stories that run in three local newspapers in my hometown and neighboring counties, all in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Over the past year, the column has (wonderfully!) begun to grow — so I get more messages than ever before. Sometimes folks want me to cover things for them; sometimes they’re just being kind and sharing compliments. I like those.
But one email? Well, this Tuesday morning email got me. It got me good. A local woman and acquaintance forwarded information about a food drive her husband is conducting on behalf of a local food bank — and divulged that this year, donations are way down. With the recession and everyone tightening their purses, of course, that seems inevitable. But very disappointing.
I’m big on charity. It doesn’t take much for me to spring into action — a sad story; a personal outreach — and for some reason, Karen’s note had me spluttering at my desk. People hungry — and at Christmas. No one should have to go hungry in a country that is still so prosperous. One of our neighboring counties was recently recognized as the sixth wealthiest in the United States. You’re telling me we can’t all spare a few cans of food?
I went crazy. I went on a mission. I was so anxious sitting at my desk, reading about the disappointing turn-out for the food drive, I defaulted to one of my new favorite phrases: “Okay — I got this.”
My heart: it’s easily broken. And touched. When I hear something upsetting and I think that I can do something, I want to. Badly.
And, when I can, I do.
After perusing forums for the best foods to contribute to pantries, I wrote myself out a little list and drove to a grocery store on my lunch break. In twenty minutes, I had my cart loaded and brimming and looked quite the sight. In my dress slacks, pearls and heeled boots, I paid for my loot and drove straight to the site of the food drive. My entire backseat was loaded with bags — rice, canned meats and vegetables, jarred fruits, powdered milk, pudding snacks, tuna — and I ran in like a tornado, introducing myself and wielding my bags like trophies.
That poor man running the drive probably didn’t know what hit him.
My Friday column is about our local food banks and the importance of giving. Toys at the holidays are important, yes, and goodness knows I don’t want any kid waking up to a barren Christmas tree on Dec. 25. But more than that? I don’t want to think about any child going hungry — or any adult sitting with a grumbling stomach so their kids can eat. Eating is a necessity. It’s a basic right. It’s something I take for granted every day of my life, but as I told Karen by email earlier this week, her husband’s food drive already changed one person’s life: mine.
And I was so touched by the email, going to the food drive and the absolute high I got from helping that I’m organizing a canned goods contribution at work to benefit that food drive! So I’ll be rolling up in my Toyota bearing bags again once more.
It’s cliche, friends, but it’s true: if you’re having a bad day, assist someone else. Look at the smile and gratitude on someone’s face when you tell them that you’re going to help. The man organizing that food drive woke up Tuesday dejected that he wouldn’t be able to assist the food bank the way he had in years past, and you know what? I helped him — and realized I have a platform in which to reach the community. When I write things, people might listen. Maybe they take it to heart, maybe they don’t, but hey — they heard me.
And if that means Ray gets a few more cans to send over, I feel like I can rest easy tonight. On a job well done.
I hope this wasn’t a PSA. More than anything, this experience has brought me a few quick lessons:
A) Doing something “small” for someone else probably isn’t small to them.
B) Good writing has the power to change lives.
I don’t know if anyone will read my column or if, in reading that, people will feel moved to bring food to the drive. I hope they do. But even if they don’t, maybe I’ve planted a seed — the same seed Karen planted with her email to me. It pulled me out of the hustle-and-bustle of my everyday life, especially at the holidays, and got me thinking about how I can do more to help my fellow (wo)man.
If we’re not doing that, what are we doing?
Find a local food bank in your area and see if you can help out — even if you’re just dropping off a bag of food at the holidays. It probably won’t be “just one bag” to someone else.
We got this, y’all.