#GivingTuesday and The Talker Toy Challenge!

In 2012, an idea was born.  We had Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving when, for decades, stores traditionally offer crazy deals to kick off the Christmas shopping season).  We had Cyber Monday (the Monday after Thanksgiving when similar sales pop up all over the web).  What if we focused a little of our Christmas-driven consumeristic madness on helping others?  With that, Giving Tuesday – “a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration” – arrived on the scene.

Giving Tuesday is a movement to celebrate and encourage giving, something that fits with this time of year.  For me, Christmastime always prompts some existential angst.  On the one hand, I have studied and taught theology long enough to know this orgy of consumerism is the last thing we should partake in to mark the birth of Jesus, a man whose vision of a world without possession or ownership was a cornerstone of the Kingdom of God he preached.  On the other hand, I really enjoy finding presents for the people in my life!  While I love being out in the stores shopping for loved ones, I’m also conflicted over how playing the capitalistic game  shouldn’t be part of celebrating Jesus’ birth.  So, focusing a bit of that energy on those who can honestly use a few freely given gifts seems like a really good idea/happy balance.

Making this a central part of my Christmas shopping was something that occurred to me earlier this year, on Force Friday.  Jeff shared a post on The Imperial Talker where he initiated The Talker Toy Challenge and called on his readers to make shopping and buying for less fortunate children in their area a mindful part of their Christmas season.  As someone who admittedly loves Christmas shopping, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this before!  Sure, I always donate at the register of Barnes & Noble or wherever when I’m asked.  But it’s not like I ever went out and consciously bought toys to donate to Toys for Tots or planned toy donations into my shopping budget.  That changed with reading Jeff’s post.  And now I have a reason to do more Christmas shopping!  I’m always down for that :).

I’ve amassed a fun pile of books and toys in my family room.  I know where I’m donating them too!  The Mercy Center for Women is a local organization and a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy (the school where I teach is another of their sponsored ministries).  The Mercy Center for Women provides safe and supportive transitional housing, education and counseling for homeless women with or without children.  They also provide a network of ongoing support, mentoring, and education for their residents and women in the community in the form of connections with social service agencies and volunteers.  A student of mine volunteered there last year and, moved by her experience, took it upon herself to start a schoolwide toy drive for the children she met.  This year will be her second year organizing this drive.  She didn’t do this for a class project or for service hours.  Rather, she did it because she was moved by the brilliant, beautiful people she met and she wanted to give them something more.  To hear her speak of the impact her time at the Mercy Center for Women and her relationship with the residents there has had on her is a powerful thing.

I was originally going to fill this post with pictures of the toys I’m donating (because I bought some really cool things and I’m really excited about them!) but then I decided that felt like it would be a little too much about me and what I’m giving.  Any other day, I’m cool with this blog being all about me :).  But today I’ll end it here by encouraging you to give something this year yourself.  There are many ways to give!

1)  If you can, donate toys to a group that helps get them to kids who could use them this year – like Toys for Tots.

2)  Or, if you can, donate money to a group that does important work for those who need it.  Personally, I’ve always liked to support the UNCHR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and their work feeding, clothing, and sheltering the world’s refugees; UNICEF (the United Nation’s Children’s Fund) and their work providing aid to children and mothers in developing countries; St. Jude Children’s Hospital and their researching and treating childhood cancer and other diseases; and FINCA which provides access to financial services to those in the developing world along with affordable products to help empower their personal growth.  But those are just some ideas!  The important part is that you’re giving!  Follow your heart.

3)  Regardless of the means you have, consider giving your voice to a cause that can use it.  All of these options are ways to give that ring true with the mission and message of Jesus and a way to celebrate his birth without losing ourselves in the me-me-me that can often pollute the holiday season.

You can check out Jeff’s latest post on the Talker Toy Challenge here.  If you need something else to put you in the mood, may I recommend RUN-DMC’s oh-so-perfect Christmas carol, “Christmas Is”?  Put it on.  Crank it up.  And get to giving!  May the Force be with you.

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