I read recently in an article that, proportionately speaking, lower- and middle-income individuals give more than people in higher income brackets. This trend seems especially true in an economic downturn, when wealthier individuals are more risk-averse and poorer individuals are in frequent contact with the homeless or unemployed.
I certainly experience this fact at Common Ground. We have gotten donations from the unlikeliest of sources. I know some of these gifts are given from big hearts with small purses, because they usually come in odd shapes or unusual amounts!
Just this week, one of our neighbors left a note with $7 in it and a lovely message: "Thanks for being there for my family."
Last week, an older client brought us two pies! With our help, she had been able to keep her power from being disconnected. It was a terrifying experience for her. As a hardworking immigrant from Eastern Europe, she had always had work -- even in her seventies. A recent layoff, however, had kept her unemployed for months, and she was having a difficult time finding a job at her age. But there was more! Before she left, she grabbed me and slathered kisses on both cheeks!
Another couple came to the center to thank my home church for helping with an insulation project. The husband pulled out a handful of money and passed it to me apologetically. "We wanted to give more, but we only had $22." Of course, I insisted our work was a gift, but he was equally insistent that we keep the money. "We want to thank you, and hopefully this will help someone else in return."
One of my favorite donations came from Rex, a man we helped several years ago. He was on the verge of homelessness when his brother, a developmentally disabled adult, was removed from his care. Rex did not even know where his brother was taken. He only knew that he was placed in a residential care facility somewhere in the state. When his brother left, Rex basically lost all of his income, as he was a paid caregiver through a Medicaid program. I remember making a lot of calls on his behalf -- to landlords, to legal offices, to other social workers. He had applied for disability, but had a long wait ahead of him, and we were all worried how he would manage.
Eventually, Rex was approved for disability. I saw him around town, and he always had a smile on his face. One day, he visited me at Common Ground and pulled $50 from his billfold. "I read about a little girl who needed help in the newspaper. I can't help her directly, but I want you to use this to help someone else. I'm okay now."
That conversation still sticks with me. Rex not only wanted to help someone out of kindness -- he wanted to help because he had been helped. He wanted to pass the gift on to someone else, even if it meant giving a huge portion of his paycheck.
I'm not surprised anymore when these wonderful gifts come our way, but they warm my heart each time. These gifts are treasures, because they are given in love, humility, and extreme generosity. (And I'm always partial to pies and kisses!)