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Office Party 2.0

We were able to dispense with the requisite “Secret Snowflake” office gift exchange this year. While I am reluctant to snub tradition, who needs another $10 tchotchke? We agreed to try something a little different.

The assignment: identify a favorite charitable organization, and come prepared to talk about it.

Our student services gathering was early this year due to the early departure of one among us to a lengthy holiday in Brussels. On Monday, we brought holiday treats along with our own brown bag lunches. It was low key, in a conference room over lunch. Nothing fancy, which was exactly right for us. Folks came bearing festive, chocolate-y, sparkly yummies to share.

Anyone who wanted to participate anted up a few bucks. While we ate and chatted, each participant in the “Charity Stocking” dropped his or her organization’s name in a stocking. We listened as each in turn shared that group’s purpose and describe why it mattered. This gave all of us the opportunity to hear one another’s brief, sweet and revealing personal stories.

We not only learned about a range of organizations and how they serve a greater good, we also became more familiar with how our co-workers think about service. I had not known before that one of our coordinators used to volunteer as a counselor at one of Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Camps, and that another has a relative who has recently returned from Afghanistan and has become involved in the Wounded Warrior Project.

We chose the team-member who is the most recent hire to draw from the stocking. He pulled our winner: Canine Companions for Independence. The organization raises service dogs to help folks with disabilities. I had a vague idea about such work from a documentary I watched a hundred years ago, but I did not know it can cost $40,000 to raise and train one of these pooches! Our small group of ten collected over $125. This will not transform the world, but it sure is nice to know our pocket change is going somewhere that matters.

Then we consumed vast quantities of sugar.

Since our Monday gathering, I find I am paying a little more attention to the food donation boxes and Toys for Tots collections scattered around my campus. I am also trying to tone down Bug’s fixation on what he is going to get from Santa. It is not easy, but even just having him help wrap the gifts or write the notes seems to get us on the right track.

I recently asked for Bug’s help choosing and bagging canned goods for the food drive. He was full of questions about who and how and why. I explained that the food was for people who do not have enough to eat.

“Why don’t they go to the store and buy some more?”

Well, of course, that would be the logical approach. So began a straightforward but carefully worded conversation about money and hunger and “enough.” It was all very strange and without context, but my boy took in as much as he could before he was ready to get going to the delivery site. “Come on, Mommy!”

In the frenzy of buying, traveling, feasting and festing, it is a fine thing to remember about giving.

Below are the other organizations that made it into this year’s Charity Stocking but did not win the cash:

Africare

Children’s Inn at NIH

Donors Choose

Girls on the Run

Mary House

Painted Turtle Camp

We keep their good work in our thoughts during the holidays, and on our lists when we have a few dollars to spare.