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Unexpected Gifts, Reminders of the Spirit of Christmas

Deb and I stood by our red Salvation Army kettle, idly ringing our bells, chatting and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, like you do when you are a Kiwanis member volunteer.

We were impressed with the generosity of the customers at the University Village Publix, a store in an unabashedly 'mixed' neighborhood. There was the son and his older father in an obviously tailored suit, who told us they would contribute on their way out, and true to their word they did. And a young woman who tossed in all of her change. And an older woman who looked liked she didn't have a dollar to spare, but who put it in the kettle anyway. And then there was the older gentleman with the stooped shoulders who wasn't even going into Publix, but came over to us and opened his wallet. It only had three dollars in it and they all went into the pot.

As we were congratulating ourselves that the kettle was so full, it was hard to even get the bills into it, a man approached and stopped about ten feet away. His jeans were old and worn, his jacket tattered, he had the look of a man who hadn't seen a dentist in years and the tanned leather skin of a sailor or a homeless person. Casting sidelong glances at each other, Deb and I expected him to ask us for money.

But he wasn't preparing to ask us for a handout. He was pulling his wallet from deep in his pocket. He pulled some bills out and approached the kettle in almost a bow, reverently. And he said as he pressed his few bills into the slot, Thank God for the Salvation Army. They saved my life. I was at the bottom. If it hadn't been for them I'd be dead now.

Next time we are bell ringing for the Salvation Army, remember this man and all of those people who gave when they had nothing to give. We aren't ringing for our club, we are ringing for people for whom this is their last and only hope. We ring for salvation, in a very real, very earthly sense.

And remember the generosity of those who contribute without checking with their accountants first, who give from their hearts because they have nothing else. Remember the gifts from those who know, 'There but for the grace of God, go I."

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