The Last Word: Life’s True Gifts

BY: TONY CHAVONNE

I approached the used plastic grocery bag someone had put on my desk with cautious curiosity. In it I found a handful of sweet potatoes that someone had left for me. Also included in the bag were a few checks marked as donations, one carefully handwritten for $25.

It was the final day of our community’s very successful GivingTuesday campaign, and I was working with a local nonprofit to raise funds for the restoration of a textile millhouse.

While our campaign efforts had resulted in many large donations, that plastic bag on my desk with its $25 check quickly came to symbolize the very heart of our community.

To that person, finding $25 during these challenging times of COVID, unemployment and economic uncertainty was not only a financial stretch but also a generous commitment to helping others.

In some way, the sweet potatoes personalized the gift and showed how people here often go above and beyond in their support of others. We started the effort to raise funds for nonprofits, but the simple gift of a few sweet potatoes helped us see even more about ourselves.

GivingTuesday first started in 2012 as a day to encourage people across America to help others. Over the past eight years it has grown into a global movement that provides inspiration to people throughout the world to give, to celebrate and to promote generosity. GivingTuesday is always the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and this year it was Dec. 1. On that day, the entire world joined to show compassion and generosity by supporting worthwhile nonprofits in their efforts to improve the lives of citizens.

Our community has long been recognized for its benevolence, with individuals giving an average of 4.7 percent of adjusted gross income in recent surveys. This year’s GivingTuesday campaign was the first joint effort between CityView and the Cumberland Community Foundation.

Donors responded generously to the campaign this year, contributing $864,264. Combined with matches of $200,000 provided by the Cumberland Community Foundation’s unrestricted endowments and $100,000 provided by the Manning family, funds raised totaled $1.164 million.

A diverse group of local organizations participated in GivingTuesday, ranging from those that feed the hungry, take care of children, provide quality of life arts experiences, deliver services to the seniors and support environmental quality.

What was so special about one single $25 check in a campaign that raised almost $1.2 million?

Maybe it is that the $25 may provide breakfast and a shower to a person who slept in the cold under a bridge last night. Or perhaps it will help keep two grandchildren out of the hospital by providing badly needed medicine that they would not have been able to receive.

Maybe the $25 will alleviate the trauma a child experiences once a disclosure of abuse is reported, or it may allow a person with diabetes to stay healthy and away from the hospital. Perhaps it will provide glasses to a person who is visually impaired or a dental extraction for an uninsured child.

The $25 check could help build a ramp for a handicapped senior or help a person learn to read.

Maybe it will provide a warm blanket or a teddy bear to a young child. It may possibly help restore dignity and reclaim neighborhoods by offering someone affordable housing.

Maybe that donation will help a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities live more independently. Perhaps it will help a homeless animal get adopted into a loving and caring home or provide shelter to a homeless person during a freezing night.

Maybe it is because that $25 check shows a compassion too often overlooked in today’s self-centered society – a genuine respect and concern for another person.

As we look back on the success of our community’s first GivingTuesday campaign, we can celebrate with the 68 charities that received funds and the thousands of our citizens that will benefit from their services.

If you look carefully in life’s used plastic grocery bags, you can see the real heart of our community, so clearly seen in a $25 check – and a few sweet potatoes.