44: Never Too Poor to Give

44: Never Too Poor to Give

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

  
Never Too Poor to Give

No one has ever become poor by giving.
~Anne Frank

“Don’t you have any toys you want to share?” I asked my son during our church’s Christmas toy drive. “What about all those things in your closet you haven’t used in years?”

“I don’t have anything,” he said. “We’re so poor.”

We’re only “poor” because we refuse to buy him the texting phone he wants for Christmas, which would also require a monthly texting charge.

“You’re never so poor you have nothing to give,” I found myself saying to him, a phrase my mother often used on me.

How could I help him understand, when I myself still whined about things I wanted, like the Fowler’s Modern English Usage book that cost nearly $40? I knew Santa Hubby wasn’t going to pony up for that one. What about that Vera Wang coat I wanted from Kohl’s, the one with the $150 price tag? No, that wasn’t happening, either.

At work the next day, one of my students said, “I didn’t spell your name right,” as she handed me a Christmas gift—a beribboned box of chocolates. No wonder she hadn’t spelled it right—I had only worked at the center for a couple of months, and my name is not easy to pronounce, even in English, which is this woman’s second language.

The woman had been out of work for months!

“Thank you, Joanna,” I said, trying to hold back the tears as I hugged her.

I hadn’t expected a gift—I work at an adult education center, where we deal with people every day who struggle economically. The economic downturn is not new to those who come in our doors—those who are laid off, without work, and need an education to get ahead or for a sense of pride. When I was hired, my boss told me she tries to keep snacks around the center and cooks “stone soup” once a week, where whoever can bring something in does, because “You will hear growling bellies here. They give their food to the children before they themselves eat.”

“Some of them get food stamps,” my boss continued, “but by the end of the month, things are tight. We try not to plan field trips where they would have to pack a lunch because sometimes they just won’t show up because they don’t even have a sandwich to bring along.”

And yet these people, so grateful for a second chance at getting an education, unable to sometimes even afford the gas money to come in, manage to do something for us nearly every week. Some bring in food; others do chores around the center. They help and encourage one another, and us. They give what they are able to give.

When I looked at my Christmas gift from my new friend, I wondered if it had been an offering out of a meager food budget, and I wanted to refuse it. Instead, I said “thank you.”

When I brought the candies home to share with my family, I told them just how precious each chocolate was if you thought of how much the unemployed woman’s family makes a year. Why, it was the equivalent of a Fowler’s Modern English Usage book! I said it again, understanding so much better in my heart, “You’re never so poor you have nothing to give.”

Perhaps the way I could help my son understand best was for me to understand first.

Immediately, I went to my bookshelf and chose several of my favorite novels to share with the center. When I had them boxed, I turned to find my son nonchalantly lugging a white laundry basket of toys he had played with when younger. “I don’t want these old things,” he said.

I saw among them his beloved Buzz Lightyear and his favorite stuffed dog, Squishy. I set them aside for the toy drive and kissed him on his forehead. He had learned the way I had—by example. Now the students had not only impacted me, but my family as well. Here I had thought I was the teacher, but Joanna and the rest of the students at the center are the ones teaching me. Because you’re never so poor you have nothing to give.

~Drema Sizemore Drudge

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