Beyond the Holiday

I was at church recently and the priest said a community kitchen was looking for volunteers to serve, “not at the holidays.” Apparently they had ALL the volunteers they needed around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, they had to turn people away. But the problem was that people were hungry all year round.

That “year round” idea was on my mind as I thought about Veterans Day. There are some great celebrations, big and small, to honor those that have served and are serving now. That’s a good thing. But when the music fades and the sun sets, they still need our support. Especially when they are far from home.

What to do?

I always say, “do what you can.” No matter how you show kindness or give of yourself, sincere effort in any measure is always appreciated. For me, this year brought some challenges to people I love so… I’ve done smaller things. A cup of coffee here, a postcard there. Nothing wrong with that. However, after a while, I took it for granted that I couldn’t do more. But then I remembered that terrific friends and amazing readers have offered to help. Why is it so hard for me to say yes? If you ask my mom she will tell you— with love—that I can be thick. Hmmm…

So I’ve decided it’s time to adopt a deployed servicemember again. That’s a commitment of one letter a week and one care package a month for the duration of the deployment. And I’ve decided that if I need help, I will ask. When you adopt, you can choose male or female and the branch of service (Army, Air Force etc). But I have my own special system for choosing. It’s whoever is next. Whoever has been waiting the longest is the person I want. I will let you know next time if it’s a boy or a girl :).

So while I’m starting this up again on Veterans Day, I’ll be doing it long after the holiday. And speaking of post-holiday, I’ll also take my daughter down to that community kitchen on some random weekend to lend a hand. After all, kindness is never out of season.

letters to the troops

© Gina left the mall, 2015

Call In Your Battle Bunnies

Every soldier has a battle buddy. They don’t go it alone. That’s also a good idea when you volunteer for an Easter/military kids project that turns out to be bigger than you expected.

My heart said yes

I was busy at work and home when I saw the request to send Easter baskets to kids of deployed troops. My heart said “awwww” and I signed up to take one family. I figured I could swing that. My little Sofia was 5-yrs-old and would “help.” Then I got the info and it turns out the family had five children. At that point, I should’ve asked a friend to join in. Having another mom and child do it with us would make it easier. Also, the more love that goes into something, the better. But I had to do this myself. You know why? Me neither.

Mistake #2

I let Sofia pick out ALL of the contents. I didn’t have names of the children but I had genders and ages. In my daughter’s mind, she KNEW them and knew exactly what they would like. I was touched that she wanted to look out for these kids who were missing their dad. In fact, I was so mushed out that I didn’t have the backbone to say no to anything. We wound up with heavy baskets.

Mistake #3

This is actually a repeat of my first mistake- thinking I have to do everything on my own. After Sofia and I made the baskets, we had to get them to the shipping store. I live in Manhattan and do not own a car. The shipping store was both too far to be convenient and too close to take a cab. I could’ve called my friend with the double-stroller and it would’ve been easy. Instead, I did this:

I got two large black garbage bags and put 3 baskets in one and 2 in the other. Because of the irregular shape, the only way I could carry them is with my arms straight out to the sides. If you met me, you’d see how petite my arms are. So I’d walk 15 feet then put the bags down for a second. Then walk 15 feet and put the bags down again. Picture this on a New York City street. I looked like I had an odd attachment to my garbage and that I was taking it out for a walk with my daughter. Hip and cool. That’s me.

filling easter baskets

Sofia, in her Little Mermaid phase, filling the baskets.

packed Easter baskets

Five finished baskets

 The good news…

Despite my production mishaps, the good news was that five kids and their mom had a nice surprise that Easter. It meant a lot to Sofia to do something kind for these children. And a deployed soldier knew that complete strangers cared about his family. That’s what matters most. A bonus lesson for me was realizing how ridiculous it is not to ask for help. People are kind, my friends are awesome, and others will be there for you if you let them. But you have to ask. In this case, I should’ve called in my battle bunnies. After all, no matter what the situation, we’re stronger when we’re in it together.

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© Gina left the mall, 2013