During hard times, people seek common bonds | Nandell Palmer

Recently I dropped off some clothes at a charity compound in Federal Way when the attendant asked if I wanted a receipt for my gift.

I told her no. I found that request strange since I have never asked for a receipt in all the times I have given away articles of clothing to charity outlets.

We joshed about this for a few minutes, how some people’s only purpose of giving away anything is that it is linked to their IRS claims, come tax time, with nary a tinge of compassion for the poor.

She told the story of a man who would make several trips per month at the site, and would not leave until somebody signed off on his donation. One day, the supervisor decided to itemize everything he brought in before giving him a receipt: Two pairs of used socks and a T-shirt. Ever since that day, nobody has seen him come back bearing gifts.

Isn’t it ironic that the people who tend to give most generously never do so to gain added remunerations — but the ones who tend to give the least would milk it for all it’s worth?

Everybody can attest to the fact that times are hard. But if you must give, please give from the heart. Real gifts come from the heart. Don’t give with the express purpose of gaining something in return. Believe me, that will take care of itself.

Not long ago, I read where a woman responded to a need: Giving away a bed to a mother who had lost her home to arson. And when the woman showed up for the bed, she realized that the donor was severely ill.

The recipient in turn rewarded her donor by deciding to bring comfort to her in any way she could — cooking, washing and other duties for free. My heart was just warmed by reading such positive exchanges.

Giving is always a tad sweeter whenever it is reciprocated and/or appreciated, but the worst thing is to expect that reciprocity is always going to come back from the source of your gifts.

Many times the gifts you give to your neighbor in Federal Way today most likely will not yield you any reward. But travel to South Africa or Argentina three years from now, and voila! There will be your bountiful rewards.

We all cannot give monetary gifts. But a lot of us can give a word of cheer. Write a letter for a mentally-challenged person. Cook a meal for the single mother with six children. Play dominoes with the elderly in the nursing home for an hour.

Volunteer at the local inner city after-school center. Tell an orphan that she is loved. These gifts will go far.

“Well, when I get like Mother Theresa or Oprah Winfrey, I am going to help a lot of people,” I have heard a few people say. Not many of us will ever come close to Oprah’s riches or Mother Theresa’s patience and unconditional love. So, what do we do in the meantime?

Recessions are nothing new. In fact, somebody told me the other day that this is America’s 19th recession since the Great Depression. I don’t know how true that is, but we as a people are bigger than recessions and depressions. This, too, shall pass.

The renowned Earl Nightingale recalled a story in one of his broadcasts where families searching through their attic some 50 years ago, stumbled upon letters written in the 1800s, telling loved ones how much they were missed. Loved. And foremost, appreciated.

The letters were replete with encouraging thoughts for people to stay the course. Remember, it was a time of great hardships, when people were beset by all kinds of diseases. There were no transcontinental flights to jet you hither and yon. No Trailway or Greyhound buses.

People had to trudge through vast wildernesses to do most of the things we do today and take for granted. Nevertheless, they collectively looked out for each other.

The nation got a taste of that erstwhile sharing and caring when we all communed as friend with friend on Sept. 11, 2001, and the weeks that followed.

A few years after that, when the East Coast was again gripped with power outage, generous people created spur-of-the-moment barbecues on sidewalks from New York City to Cleveland for mere strangers. Shoe store managers gave out sandals, flip-flops, and sneakers by the thousands to pedestrians, free of cost.

Who among us old enough could ever forget Hands Across America or "We Are the World" for starving children in Ethiopia during the mid-1980s?

Those days are not far gone. People, I believe, can be nudged back into action. But it will take some starters: You and me. How about our filling up the Great Divide, starting with the church?

It’s all about sharing and cheering up each other when times are gloomy. And what better way to learn about each other but through food? I would propose that Russian congregations sit down and share some borscht and blinis with their Korean brothers and sisters.

The Koreans could share their bulgogi and kalbi with their African-American brethren, and the African-Americans share their smothered chicken and yams with the German-based Lutheran members, with their schnitzel and sauerkraut.

Local businesses are doing their parts, too. I know a few barbershop owners who are giving major discounts to students and the elderly on special days. They have sensed the needs of their communities, and I applaud them for being agents of change.

In the long run, we will all have our hands extending across America once more, but this time around knowing more about each other and feeling each other’s pain, believing and asserting that we are our brothers/sisters’ keepers.

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