Christmas Still Life - Salvation ArmyBy Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper 12/2011

“I have always thought of Christmas time, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!” — Fred Hollwell, Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol.”

It’s Christmas 2011. The economy is still bad, and so many people are out of work, losing their homes, and struggling just to put food on the table. We’re still at war, and sadness and despair are blazing across every news site.

But twice this year, we have seen examples right here in town of extraordinary generosity and kindness, proving that Foxboro openhandedness is not limited to the holidays. During the massive electric outages of Hurricane Irene and the October Nor’easter, this town saw countless examples of charity, hospitality and kindness to those in need.

Some of these were well-known, but so many others were done behind-the-scenes by the usual suspects who are always volunteering their time to help others. When help is needed, they are there. God bless them.

And now it’s Christmas time, and along with the insane rush of the season, I write today to ask each of you to try to make it a point to do one act of kindness, one act of generosity, one act of charity, if you are able.  And if you are not able, please remember there’s no shame in needing help and that so many of have been where you are — My family was on welfare when I was a kid because Dad’s illness (a precursor to his cancer) had progressed to the point he couldn’t work. Once mom started working, she was incredibly generous to the church and other organizations that helped us get back on our feet, a tradition she continues to this day, and has instilled into my sister and me.

  • To start with, many people who live in this area have no idea of the great need that exists right here around Foxboro. Years ago we’d pitch in to help with food collections and deliveries to the needy. Our dear friend, the late Bob Shea, built a food collection box for the Foxboro Pantry (FFP). Did you know that the FFP (508-543-5235) provides food to needy families ALL year? You can help with a financial donation, or simply drop off one or two needed non-perishable items. There are boxes at Shaws Sharon, and the Stop & Shop’s in Foxboro and Mansfield. Just pick up something extra and drop it in. Whether it’s a bag of food or a can of soup, all donations will be taken to the food pantry for immediate disbursement to the needy. It takes a moment to donate, and it feels great. The most needed foods are usually listed right on the box.
  • The FFP operates under the umbrella of the Foxboro Discretionary Fund (FDF). Active in town for decades and run by a volunteer group of unsung heroes, the FDF has been making a difference for the needy for in many ways. In 2009, the holiday program delivered food to over 200 households on Thanksgiving and again at Christmas (along with toys, clothing and gift cards for 230 children). Each year that number grows. When the FDF delivers the Christmas dinner, the Foxboro Jaycees assemble fruit baskets to go along with the meal. Last December we made 250 baskets. The FDF also runs a “Fresh Start” Program every August to purchase all back to school supplies and clothing for almost 150 needy children and teens. They also provide fuel assistance. And they need your help. Your financial donation — large or small, can make a HUGE difference for a family in need. (508-543-5235).
  • The Boston Globe’s “Globe Santa” has been making Christmas dreams come true for kids since I was a child. Check out (http://globesanta.org) or 617-929-1525 more information.
  • The greater Boston Food Bank can always use your help to feed the hungry. (617) 427-5200 or www.gbfb.org.
  • Many churches, places of work and other organizations have “giving trees” where you select a tag or ornament with a gift written on it for a needy child that you buy, and place under the tree. A few years back I selected “toy for a three year old boy” and in I found the most adorable little stuffed animal — a toy puppy. I remembered the comfort my stuffed animals provided me at a young age and as I placed the toy into the donation box I thought, “Take good care of him, little guy.” God, that felt good.
  • Give blood. I haven’t done this recently but plan to do so again because I always felt so happy after I did so. There is always need for blood at hospitals. We often see the Knights and other groups sponsoring blood drives. It really doesn’t hurt much, just a little discomfort. Your donation may be the one that saves someone’s life. And besides, you get cookies and juice and everyone is so nice to you when you donate!
  • Mmmmm, cookies. Sorry, distracted myself there for a moment.
  • Do you have an elderly relative or friend in a rest home or assisted living facility? VISIT THEM. Call them once in a while. You will make their month.
  • Visiting Boston to do some shopping? Give a homeless person a dollar or two, or a cup of coffee. I’ve worked in Boston six years and I can tell you with certainty NO ONE wants to sleep in a doorway in winter.
  • Out shopping? Do you hear that familiar bell-ringing outside the store? Yes, it’s the Salvation Army volunteer, standing in the cold. Can you drop a dollar or two into the kettle? I was on their website recently and cannot believe the magnitude and scope of good they do around the world. Drop your extra change in that red kettle. When I was a teen and sold the Boston Globe for three years in front of Woolworth’s, I made it a habit to drop tips into the Salvation Army kettle across the street. It only amounted to $7.00 that month, but that was a lot of money for a kid selling newspapers in the cold in 1980. And it felt great.
  • Many churches and organizations are collecting new/ gently used coats and gloves for those who need them. Do you have an extra? Drop if off and help keep someone warm. (This is a lesson I learned from my dad. While he was courting my mother, it was a cold winter day and they passed a man shivering. Dad raced back to his car and got his spare coat and gave it to the man. As the man called out “God bless you!” Dad said to my mom, “I had two coats, he had none. Now BOTH of us are warm.”)
  • A great gift idea to anyone who depends on their car is a subscription to AAA. It’s not the most “Christmassy” or romantic gift, but on that night your friend runs out of gas, or can’t change a flat, has a dead battery, or needs a tow they cannot pay for, you will be their hero. Likewise, a grocery store gift card is a really nice present for a family who can use a little help. Even $10 will buy milk, bread, and diapers. Or cookies. God, what is it with me and cookies today. I really need to go buy some Oreos.
  • If you attend a church or synagogue or other house of worship, or go to La Salette shrine to see the beautiful Christmas lights, light a candle for someone. Say a prayer for them. TELL THEM YOU DID IT. Or as they used to say on NYPD Blue, “I’ll have a good thought for you.” Positive energy and good intentions work miracles. Positive manifesting is real.
  • When you’re shopping, try, please, please try, to be a little nicer (or at least have more patience) with the folks behind the counter. Most of them (yeah, admittedly not all, but MOST) are trying their best and are on their feet all day. The season isn’t very merry when people yell at them because they won’t accept their one-year-old-expired coupon. And on a personal note, could you please hang up you cell phone when it’s your turn to be waited on? It’s so rude to the cashier!
  • Here in town, the Foxboro Jaycees, Knights of Columbus, Rotary, PTO, your child’s school, Foxboro Citizens Corp (http://www.foxboroughcitizencorps.org/) and dozens of other community organizations are always looking for help to assist them with their good works. Check them out, even if only to spend a few hours helping at one community event.

Look, I get that many people reading this cannot make even the smallest donation of money nor time because they are the ones in need. That is fine — you’re the folks I’m asking everyone else to help. You keep doing your best because it will get better. There is no shame in asking for help. We all need it from time to time. Take advantage of the programs around town if you qualify. They are there to help you.

But for those who are able, whatever you can do makes a difference. Every donation of money or time to any of the organizations, groups, churches or funds listed above — and hundreds of others — makes a difference.

This past August and October, we saw that tremendous kindness and generosity are alive and well in Foxboro. Now at this festive time of the year, whatever your beliefs, this is a good time of year to again focus on helping those less fortunate and making a difference.

Do it because it’s Christmas, do it because it’s the season, do it because it’s the right thing to do, or best of all, do it for yourself — you will be amazed how good it feels.

Believe me, your own holiday dinner tastes much better when you realize that you’ve helped to feed and assist those less fortunate, or you’ve made even the smallest difference to someone. It’s the best holiday present of all.

Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Happy Hanukkah, and of course, Happy Festivus to all!

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