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Lois M. Collins: A giving heart influences more than the moment

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

The child fingered the nubby texture of the bedspread and wondered why it was less warm and not smooth like all the other blankets on the pile.

So my friend explained the purpose of a bedspread and how it's the decorative topper after you've put on the sheets and blankets and pillows.

"Oh," said the little refugee, "then I don't want that. I don't have a bed."

A brief silence followed that retelling. We'd been talking about the holidays — what we give, what we crave, what we do for others. It was a reminder that most of us just assume that everyone has what we consider basics, including a place to rest in comfort at the end of the day. Not everyone has a bedspread, sure. But a bed?

My friend, Amy, has a heart for anyone who needs help or hope or a hug, including the refugees for whom she has been gathering basic supplies, as have hundreds of others in our community.

Lots of people do something nice during the holidays. But some people have a special reach-out gene that isn't regular issue in the human genome. They're the folks who on their day off after a long week at work think it's fun to sort cans at the food bank or cook dinner for someone who's just had surgery. They have a mindset that is more often in what-others-need mode, not just between Thanksgiving and Christmas and never limited to those they already know and love.

When she was a young mother, Amy threw a birthday party for her oldest daughter and watched for nearly an hour as the child opened gift after gift after gift. The girl was little and, like most kids, didn't want her friends to play with her bounty when it was all revealed. The toys were hers; she wanted to play with them first.

It was miserable for everyone, Amy said.

So she and her daughter talked about it and changed how they celebrated birthdays after that. The milestones were each marked, still, with a party. But the invited guests were asked specifically not to bring gifts. Or they brought small stuffed animals that were donated to the local police to give children caught in a traumatic situation. Her daughters still got plenty of presents from family, given separate from the party. The party itself became a celebration of friendship and no one in the neighborhood had to feign a conflict because they couldn't afford a gift.

"I remember not going to parties when I was a kid because of that," Amy said.

Sometimes, they change how they do parties completely. Instead of inviting friends to their house, Amy and her husband arranged to celebrate their daughter's birthday at The Christmas Box House once, among friends she'd never met before. They hired a magician to perform there as part of Rachel's birthday present. It was a treat, well shared.

A teacher I talked to this week for a story on tapping into the desire of children to help others told me kids who have done without are often the most generous when it comes to helping others. Countless adults have said they give because when they were young and times were harder, they received.

I like that concept. When I reach out and do for or give to others, whether it's during the holidays or at other times, I'm not only helping someone in the moment, but I'm seeding the future with people who will give because they know personally how much it matters.

I suspect the world's Amys already knew that.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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