The real meaning of giving

January 8, 2010

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How fortunate I am. But it wasn't always like this.

I have been lucky to be able to work at Mercy Corps — a creative, innovative agency where the skills that I have can be used to help others in this world — for more than 15 years. I started as a volunteer in 1991, then became a part-time employee, then moved on to full-time employment in 1996.

As a single mother of two boys, I had previously worked 15 years in customer service. I know what it is like to pinch pennies and work with a very small budget to make enough to support a family. I also know that, the more in need that I have been in my life, the more tender my heart became to those in need.

In donor services, our work can be demanding — especially during emergencies and the holiday season, when our work expands expeditiously. We always are so grateful for the people who generously donate to our programs during the holidays, but we don't always get a chance to really touch base with the donors and get their stories and reasons for giving.

But this holiday season, I was touched with just such a chance: here is one story of people whose hearts are tender and generous, and whose contribution we so very much appreciate here at Mercy Corps.

Just before Christmas — as I was leaving for the day, with coat, scarf and gloves in hand — I received a call from our reception desk that someone had come into the office with a donation. I looked around to see who all could go and talk to the donor and found that I was the only one available right at that time.

I went to meet perhaps the best Christmas gift I received this year: an employee from Central City Concern, Jill, who walked in and purchased two Mercy Kits with funds donated by the beneficiaries of their Mentor program.

The contribution came as a result of Jill wanting to help her organization's clients see how Mercy Corps is working to alleviate poverty and uplifting other people around the world. She brought these clients to the Action Center for a tour a while back. One of those clients then contacted our Community Relations Officer, Minda Seibert, who gave them a poster and some material to show them a bit about our work. The clients were so touched that they then decided to collect their soda can and bottle refunds, as well as some extra change, to purchase Mercy Kits. They voted on the kits and decided that the Uganda Farm Kit and the Stove Kit were the kits that they wanted.

These donors, who recently been homeless themselves, have benefited from Central City Concern's Mentor program and now have housing and food —tiny apartments and food stamps, Jill further explained — but saw at Mercy Corps that others have a more difficult time than they are having right now, and they can do something to help out. At a recent meeting, the Central City Concern clients decided that, just because Christmas gift giving is over, it doesn't mean that they have to stop donating. They want to continue to collect their spare change to help others in need around the world through our programs.

Through their generosity, I learned a little more about the real meaning of giving and remembered, again, how difficult it is to start over in this world. Thanks to Jill and the others at Central City Concern, these wonderful people can reach up, out of the poverty they were in and now work to help others!

I talk to people every day who want to work with us. They want to help. They want to volunteer, to do internships, get a job to travel to help others, fundraise or do anything to help others. We utilize the skills of as many volunteers and interns as we can manage right now. I hope that this will grow in the future to be able to expand and work with more and more of the people with good hearts and great ideas that can add to the work that we do.

Giving opportunities can be so uplifting to all the people involved, not just to the beneficiaries. But this Christmas gift will always be important to us here at Mercy Corps because of these important donors. We wish these people with great and generous hearts the very best.

I remember where I have been and am so grateful to be able to be part of making this work happen. I hope that my small contribution makes a difference when combined with all of my colleagues here and with the help of donors.

Together, we can do so much to alleviate suffering and poverty around the world.