'Tis the Season...

Katherine Longshore 15 Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I’ve been working on a story idea recently—one in which the characters will spend a good part of the novel hungry, unsheltered, wandering—lost.  It’s difficult to get into the mindset of someone who has so little when I have so much. 

I’ve been a wanderer, but one of the fortunate ones.  My homelessness was voluntary during the nine months I traveled the world with nothing but the contents of my backpack.  During that time, there were a few nights I didn’t have a place to stay and had to sleep where I could (including one night on the floor of the women’s bathroom of the Chimanimani National Park in Zimbabwe, a shelter for which I was incredibly grateful).

I’ve been in the situation where I didn’t have enough in my bank account to make a withdrawal from an ATM machine—but at the time I worked at a bakery, so I always had enough to eat.

I’ve been unemployed, but had shelter through the kindness of family.  I’ve been hungry, but only because I’ve forgotten to eat or because a meal was delayed or—once—neglected to bring enough food on a 15-hour train journey.  I’ve never had a Christmas without friends, family, food and at least one gift.  Last year, with nine people in the house, the cornucopia beneath the tree was an embarrassment of riches.

This morning, we have no milk in the house.  Even buying two gallons at a time, we run out quickly with two growing boys.  At first, I pouted.  I love to make myself a cappuccino in the morning.  Plain coffee just isn’t the same.  There’s something about the ritual of foaming the milk, the lick of foam on the side of the mug, being able to dip my holiday biscotti into the creamy center.

But then I sat down to write about these characters.  They’re not hungry yet, but they’re about to be.  And I was reminded that I have coffee.  I have homemade biscotti.  I have the means to go out and buy milk and a car to transport the two gallons home.  I have heat and a comfortable bed and the ability to give my kids something on their wish lists for Christmas.

Last week, my son’s classroom asked for volunteers to help sort donations for the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee in a neighboring town.  The agency gives food and gifts to local families who might be barely scraping buy this month.  My kid spent all weekend raking leaves, cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn, vacuuming and washing dishes so he could give an extra ten dollars to help out.  Someone asked me why he didn’t keep some of it, and I answered that I think it’s because he knows he has enough, and there are people out there who don’t. 

That’s the best gift I’ve received so far this holiday season.  Just seeing that generosity of spirit in someone I love.  And knowing that if my characters were real people, there might be someone out there willing to help them, without hesitation or judgment.  

While writing a novel, we’re told to raise the stakes.  Make things worse for our characters—and then make them worse again.

This holiday season, in real life, I am humbled by watching my child make things better.

And I’m determined to do the same.  So I pledge to donate a dollar to go to local families in need for every individual who comments below*.  And I’ll donate two dollars if you pledge to give back to your community, too.  Just tell me who you are (so I know you're not a bot!) and your favorite holiday giving tradition--to family, to friends, to Secret Santas, to the community...

Happy holidays, my friends.  And thank you for making it happier for others, too.

*I will donate to the Short Term Emergency Aid Committee, http://www.steac.org/, counting individual readers who comment up to and including Christmas Day. 


This post got eight comments, so I've rounded up my donation to STEAC (Short-Term Emergency Aid Committee) in Yolo County to $20.  Thank you all so much, and I hope you had a joyous season.


Oh wow, Katy! It is me, Beth, not a Beth-impersonating-bot.
I'll give back to my community, too. And my favorite holiday giving tradition is a new one--instead of an Advent calendar of giving, it now includes getting. For my five-year-old this means giving a note of love to a family member, giving a hug of encouragement, and so on.

Hi Katy, I loved this post. What a wonderful idea! I'll be giving to a local family who has been identified by our school partners as being in extreme need this holiday season.

Hi, Katy. This is awesome. We are donating to Toys for Tots. But after this post, I'm motivated now to find another way to give back. Great post, as always.

I usually read this in my email and don't stop to comment. But this is exceptional. I just finished writing checks for the Salvation Army, Blue Ridge Food Bank and FINCA a small business loan for women in developing nations. I also feel I have so much and the presents I get and give an embarrassment and we live on Social Security!! Not much at all. But there are people with much less than us, my own grown son for instance who just went bankrupt trying to pay for his wife's surgery.

Great post, Katy. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate this season than giving to others. Now that my children and nieces and nephews are all nearly adults, I will be donating to charities in their honor.

Great idea, Katy. We just dropped off some pasta and canned goods at A's school -- two of the kids are running a collection for Food for People. I've been thinking a lot about hungry people this season, as well. We always give to Heifer, to help people feed themselves, but I know there are plenty of hungry people right here in town, and it's good to have a chance to help.

Love this, Katy! We have a tradition of visiting a "Giving Tree." The kiddos have great fun picking an ornament/family in need and shopping for their gifts.

Thank you, Beth-not-a-bot! I love this Advent calendar idea!

Toys for Tots is such a wonderful way to give--especially for kids, who get to see exactly what they're giving. It makes it a much more concrete experience for them. Thanks, V.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! Your generosity is inspiring. I will keep your son and his wife in my thoughts--I do hope everything works out for the best for them.

Thank you, Robin! I imagine all the "children" in your life are very grateful to be giving back through your generosity.

I love that the children have organized a giving campaign, Martha! And I'm always inspired by the donation made to Heifer in our family's name.

This is such a win-win situation, Kristen! My kids' preschool did this, and I think it's partly why my son is still eager to give back.

Katy, amazing post, as always. We help out with our church most, but always give to Toys for Tots and the Giving Tree. It's fun not just handing over $$, but picking out something that a kiddo will play with.

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