It was Saturday afternoon at the mall and I was on a mission.
As I made a beeline from my parked car to Target—intent on buying a slow cooker for my kitchen and then getting the heck out of the busy holiday crowds—my attention was nicely arrested when I heard Christmas carols being sung by real human beings.
What a refreshing change from endless Xmas Muzak in the stores. I glanced over to where carolers stood behind a white tent, two big barrels and a small group of people who were obviously hosting an “event.”
It didn’t take long to figure out this was a fund-raising event. I was only sorry they hadn’t been given a better position; namely, right next to the front door of the department store. Instead, they were stationed in the middle of nowhere on a poorly-trafficked sidewalk.
Even from a distance, though, I could see how the fund-raisers were making the most of it. Two of their members were busy collecting from the line of cars slowly funneling into the Target parking lot.
I decided to walk down there and make a little cash donation. The closer I got, the more I was able to observe the one person who stood out from this tableau: a young woman dressed in a snug jacket and winter woolly cap. She was scampering adorably amongst the passing cars like an eager little chipmunk, collecting cash in a plastic cylinder and making fun comments to everyone who donated.
Her face was wreathed in smiles. Every inch of her body exuded an irresistible sense of playfulness and love for her task. She was the ultimate modern-day Christmas elf, dishing out cheer to one and all.
She approached me in a spritely manner with her donation tin. As I stuffed my cash in the slot, I said, “I’ll donate just because you’re so enthusiastic!”
Clearly delighted, she gave me a quick, spontaneous hug and said, “Thank you! I’m Lauren.”
I told her my name, returned her gift of smiles and she was off again in a whirlwind of activity.
Going about my business inside the department store, I couldn’t stop thinking about Lauren and her bigness of spirit. She had definitely taken me out of my Grinchy attitude of “let’s just get this over with” and put me in a holiday giving mood.
I decided to purchase some breakfast items (plus a box of hot chocolate with marshmallows for the kids) to put in the food donation barrel. But when I got back outside, I was disappointed to see that everything had been packed up and the event was over. Luckily I was just in time to catch a man packing the barrels into the truck and I happily handed over my bag of goodies.
Next stop was Caribou Coffee to buy some coffee beans. As I waited at the counter I noticed a food donation box with a TV media team featured on the front. It was for the same cause I had just donated to—Feed the Valley—and lo and behold, there was Lauren Lindvig, news anchor for WFMJ-TV, smiling from the box.
Being new to this city (and not a TV watcher) I was possibly the only person that day who did not recognize her. I was now doubly impressed with Lauren’s attitude to her volunteer work. She behaved nothing like a privileged or aloof TV personality; she was a human being with her heart on her sleeve and a childlike joy in her step.
As I drove home from my errands, my own heart was soaring as I sang along to the songs on the radio. I briefly analyzed why I was feeling so happy, on a gloomy winter’s afternoon in heavy traffic, and I realized it was two things: (a) the joy of giving and (b) the way Lauren inspired me 1,000% with her generous and bubbly personality.
This is being written weeks later but her influence is with me still. Lauren has moved me to think about volunteering here in my new community of Youngstown, Ohio. Witnessing her approach, I realized on a whole new level that it’s not just about helping by giving your time, energy or money . . . it’s about giving of yourself from within.
After the holidays are over, I plan to go down to Volunteer Services Agency to find out where I might fit in.
Being a semi-hermit writer with fluctuating levels of confidence, it’s very important for me to feel at ease about what I’m doing. This paragraph from VSA’s MySpace page encourages me to believe the experts can match me with an experience that I can relax into and really enjoy:
“Whether you want to volunteer on your own or as part of a group, we can help you find the opportunity you’ll like best. It doesn’t matter if you volunteer once a week or once a month. Even if you only have an hour or two to spare, it’s okay. You can be 15 or 115. What matters is that you VOLUNTEER!”
VSA is a local agency, but if you’re interested in looking for your own “fit” here’s an online matching service you can try: Volunteer Match. Just type in your city or zip code for local opportunities.
Something extra-motivating about Volunteer Match is their people profiles. Here’s one I saw when I visited while writing this article:
“Nancy Peyton found the perfect virtual opportunity with Cheerful Givers. Now she’s providing birthday gifts to thousands of kids in need—at her own pace and from the comfort of home.”
Sounds like fun!
Meanwhile, I was still in a holiday giving mood and didn’t want to wait until things “calm down” after New Year’s to get started. I searched online and found what felt like the perfect fit (for me) in terms of online giving.
Known as MicroPlace, this is not your typical charity donation. This is an opportunity to invest in the lives of very impoverished people by helping to finance loans that will be used to start small businesses.
With my first investment of $58 I was able to finance an entire loan for someone in Indonesia. Knowing how much this will mean to someone’s family, especially in the long run, I felt fortunate to be involved with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Now, this story would not be complete without saying something special about Lauren the Christmas Elf. However, these are not my words. I found them in an article about how Lauren was chosen from hundreds of people for the job of morning co-anchor on WFMJ (News Anchor’s a Natural Fit). News director Mona Alexander said this:
“[Lindvig’s] personality is so warm and genuine. She’s enthusiastic and vivacious and energetic. I’m so glad she’s here. I’m impressed with her wit, her warmth and intelligence.”
Alexander added that Lauren’s demo caught her eye because her sense of fun was so evident.
In just thirty seconds of contact, all these things about Lauren were so visible (and so infectious!) I couldn’t have said it better myself.