How to put the “Happy” in our Holidays


SOME's 40th Anniversary Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger

I had a lovely thanksgiving. I rarely get to see my only sibling on that day which is dedicated to families, but this year, I spent it with her, eating pizza. That’s a tradition she unwittingly created while serving in the Air Force, overseas. Like me, she’s a strict vegetarian, and when she was stationed in certain countries, the biggest treat she could find was pizza, so every year for almost a decade, that’s what she ate. I’m proud to continue that tradition with her, because of the poignant story behind it.

So that’s how I spent my Thanksgiving– with family, eating cheese, introducing everyone to the wonder that is “Boardwalk Empire“. We even indulged in some eye-roll-worthy retail shenanigans at midnight. But what stands out to me most about this Thanksgiving–even more than the Gino’s pizza which was lovingly carried here from Chicago for us to enjoy– was how we started that morning; we were up by 6 and on the Mall by 7am, looking for parking so that four of us could participate in the So Others Might Eat 5k. I am embarrassed to admit that aside from being excited about naming our team (“Pilgrim and Wrong Indians”), I was grumbling about my lack of sleep and the lack of sun (or warmth) at such a cold, early hour.

In my defense, it was my first 5k. But once people started running, I started having fun…and by the end of the “turkey trot”, I was elated from the experience, which “raised $125,000 one of the city’s oldest and most respected organizations ministering to the homeless and hungry.”

So the cliche about giving to others being the best gift you can give yourself really is true. More than the delicious, diet-busting tiramisu we devoured or the $250 door-buster mattress we scored at Macy’s after I gave a few hundred people at Tyson’s Corner the Heisman, what defined this most recent holiday for me was the delight derived from focusing on others and trying– in a very tiny way– to help them. The experience left me grateful– and looking for more. I know I’m not the only one who appreciates the palate-cleanser of good deeds after a particularly selfish trip to the Salon or the shops on Book Hill, so I’d like to try and spotlight opportunities for giving back, here on DCentric. This is something I’ll have more posts about next week, but for today, I’d love to point you towards this WAMU commentary from Chuck Bean, the Executive Director of The Nonprofit Roundtable, who suggests “Imagine It’s You In Need”, as a way to tap in to compassion, to motivate ourselves to help others.

These days many things seem beyond our control: North Korea, Wikileaks, partisan bickering. It’s hard to imagine we can make a difference. In a time when we have seen our home values take a beating, the value of lending a hand remains strong. Sure, we’ve had a challenging year, but we know a lot of folks who have it worse.

Imagine it’s you.

Imagine you’re standing in a longer-than-usual line at the food pantry and when you get to the front, they’re out of food because so many people need it.

Imagine you’re laid off and need retraining, and the job programs are all full.

Imagine you are number 100 on the waiting list for the preschool program for your child.

All of us are served by nonprofits every day: Girls Scouts, Red Cross…feeding our spirits like Sitar Arts Center or meeting basic needs at Mission of Love in Prince George’s.

All around our region, nonprofits give a chance to someone in a tough situation. They move a family from desperation to stability.

For example, Doorways for Women and Families — an Arlington nonprofit focused on ending homelessness and domestic violence — just told me about a woman and her 15-month-old son that came through their Family Home door. With Doorways’ help, mother and son are this week moving out of the shelter, signing a lease, and celebrating this holiday season safely in their own apartment.

Safe Shores, the DC Children’s Advocacy Center, makes sure children who have experienced abuse find a safe place to recover, which could be especially hard in the midst of the holiday fanfare.

Housing counselors at the Latino Economic Development Corporation work long hours in their Wheaton office to help homeowners prevent foreclosure. With their help, families have a much better chance to get unresponsive lenders to respond and stay in their homes.

The good news? Investments in Safe Shores and LEDC can literally last a lifetime, as they lead children and families out of the hardest time in their lives.

The bad news? For these and many other nonprofits this year, there’s not enough to go around. At Doorways, for the mother and toddler served, another nine families seeking help had to be turned away. With more funds, Doorways could serve those families as well. For many nonprofits, there is no more room at the inn.

Now, imagine yourself helping that family.

Volunteer? Yes. Donate food and supplies? Yes. Give money? Yes.

Contributions equate to counseling for the abused child, a food basket for the hungry family, tools for someone seeking a job.

If you’d like a fun way to find some of the region’s best small nonprofits, I recommend the Catalogue for Philanthropy.

If you want to help our neighbors get the basics this holiday season — food, clothing, shelter — join me in contributing to the Neighbors in Need Fund at the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. The Fund helps organizations across the region give help to thousands of families — our neighbors.

Imagine it’s you helping.

Imagine it’s you making a difference.