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A gift for all

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By Laura Clark

Each holiday season the spirit of giving and generosity seizes many of us, prompting an extra card here, some bills in a bucket there.

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And there are some as Christmas approaches who take that spirit just a bit father, who reach out to our neighbors who are most in need.

Their stories are inspirational and too often go untold, lost in the dash and sparkle of the season, private acts of kindness that spread blessings among us.

For Bobby Garrett of To Be Continued in Shelbyville, helping during the holidays is an extension of his work throughout the year with Project Outreach and Open Door of Hope, the men's homeless shelter.

On New Year's Day, he will be serving up lasagna at the Stratton Center. And for Christmas, he will help provide the dinner for the men's shelter, along with a small gift for each.

He was called to help someone else recently, a young woman at The Healing Place, a drug and alcohol rehab in Louisville.

"She just walked in one day," Garrett said. "Bless her heart, she was just tired. So I made arrangements to get her down there. We've decided this Christmas we'll do something for her."

Garrett and his wife Amye are collecting bus tickets, stamps, paper and phone cards for the young woman who they say doesn't have anybody. But she does now.

"It's amazing how you can change a life by being unconditional," Garrett said. "And that's what giving is all about: It's unconditional."

 

Reaching out

Sometimes giving simply inspires more giving. Charlene Nation of Avon for Guys and Dolls recalled the winter of 1988, when her home burned down. People shared so much, she said, even giving her young daughter gifts they'd bought for their own children.

Every year since then, Nation has either bought gifts for a child in the community or made baskets of products to give at a local nursing home.

This year, however, her generosity is headed several thousand miles away to Timothy Peach, a soldier stationed in Iraq. Peach's mother is Nation's friend on Facebook.

"This year I felt I was drawn toward the guys who are serving our country. Their needs are great," she said.

So Nation is putting together a box of goodies from her store: lotion, shampoo and shower gels. She will send lip moisturizer, because lip balm would probably melt in the heat, and some razors and fun stuff like word-search books and scratch-off lottery tickets.

"Their feet probably get yucky in those boots," she said. "The cracked-heel cream is amazing."

Maybe Peach can share his pampering products with other soldiers in his unit, Nation said. She said she has never met the young soldier. Indeed, many givers and receivers never meet at all.

Quietly helping

Some prefer to stay anonymous, like the individuals and families that have contacted Judy Roberts at Operation Care. She's helping coordinate many holiday events, such as Christmas at Claudia's, in addition to caring for the six families in Operation Care's housing program.

But some 15 families didn't meet the deadline for the local Angel Tree or Southeast Christian Toy Store. About five of those remain unadopted. Roberts said she respects a Santa-citizens right to be anonymous.

"They give for different reasons. Some people will adopt a family in memory of a lost family member of their own. Some do it just to help somebody," Roberts said. "It really is the best way to give, to give anonymously because you know your heart is in the right place."

One frequent giver, who wishes to remain anonymous, said it humbles him.

"I'm no big deal by any means," he said. "I've been very blessed. It's time to give back."

In turn, he has been helped by those less fortunate, as they've taught him not to stereotype, to see the intrinsic value of everyone in a community.

Teaching how to give

This lesson is one of the many Liz Barker, Youth Minister for the Catholic Church of the Annunciation, said she hopes the teenagers in her congregation gain through holiday volunteer work.

"The bottom line is Jesus doesn't have any borders, and we are all God's children," Barker said.

This youth involvement kicked off with a dinner for the hungry in November. For Christmas, they are sponsoring several families in the community and will deliver food, clothing and toys up until Christmas Eve. Barker has also asked the youth to commit random acts of kindness through Christmas.

"We try to teach them that it's not just about them. We teach them that they need to go out into the community and help a stranger, people of different faiths and nationalities," Barker said. "The gift is two-fold: not just to give it away, but it will also come back to them."

In a way, Barker said, that spirit of giving in the community will be a gift to the youth.t