They have old-fashioned names: Owen, Loren, Mac, Millard, Mary, Betsy, Allen, Marv. They are mostly retired from paid work, removed from the rush-rush-rush of family and career that marked their middle years. They are easing into older age, a time when attitude most determines whether they will grow bitter or wise.
They gather together once a year at The Christmas Bureau to volunteer their time and energy. They spend the 10 days before Christmas distributing presents, food vouchers and toys to the lowincome of our community. This year, they met up with one another at the University Mall, site of the 1997 Christmas Bureau.
It takes 70 volunteers to staff the bureau and most already volunteer for the three community agencies that make the bureau run - Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and the Salvation Army. The volunteers are a dedicated group who come back year after year. Loren says: “Everyone in life operates in their own little circles. This expands your outlook.” Mac says: “It gets you out of the house.”
The work is not easy. Transporting toys from storeroom to shelves is hard on the back. The bureau’s day care, where children play while parents pick out toys, can challenge even the most energetic grandmas and grandpas. Though most recipients are grateful and pleasant, some are not.
The volunteers receive a nice sweatshirt and hot lunch every day, but their rewards are not material. Working the Christmas Bureau, they say, helps them understand how we’re all connected, despite divisions of age, race and economic status. Working the bureau enables them to meet and talk with the poor among us. It forces them out of stereotypes that can close the heart, especially in these times of welfare reform.
“If you journey with someone and get to know them as individuals, the stereotypes go and the lines blur. Everyone who comes here feels good about being here. It’s an opportunity of grace,” says Mike Ryan, the Catholic Charities worker who directs the bureau.
Visit the Christmas Bureau and watch this grace in action. Watch the coming to life of these words from writer and priest Henri J. Nouwen.
It is sad to see that, in our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. We often live as if our happiness depended on having. But I don’t know anyone who is really happy because of what he or she has. True joy, happiness and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board