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These organizations welcome your generous donations this holiday season.
United Way of Hall County: 527 Oak St., Gainesville, 30501, 770-536-1121
Georgia Mountains Food Bank: 4515 Cantrell Road, Flowery Branch, 30542, 770-967-0075
Good News at Noon: 979 Davis St., Gainesville, 30501,770- 503-1366
North Georgia Community Foundation: 5F Oak St., Suite 1300, Gainesville, 30501, 770-535-7880
American Red Cross: 425 Bradford St NW, Gainesville, 30501, 800-282-1722, 800- 282-1722
Empty Stocking Fund: Gainesville Jaycees, P.O. Box 126, Gainesville, GA 30503, 706-974-8284
Toys for Tots: Wally Calderon, Hall County coordinator, 5083 Marsh Creek Court, Braselton, 30517
The Salvation Army: 681 Dorsey St., Gainesville, 30501, 770-534-7589
"I have always thought of Christmastime ... as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time ... when men and women seem by one consent to open up their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."
— Scrooge's nephew Fred, in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"
Each December, we are reminded of Ebenezer Scrooge's ascent into grace in Charles Dickens' 1843 classic, "A Christmas Carol." Dripping with 19th century Victorian prose like wax from a candle, it still resonates generations later with its spot-on analysis of the human condition and of this yearly miracle we call Christmas.
In it, as we all know, the cold-hearted miser comes to appreciate the giving spirit of Christmas only after three ghostly tour guides contrast his selfish ways with the warmth of the holiday.
That he comes to realize charity is its own reward and opens the soul to a rebirth of human kindness is almost forgotten in most common references to his name. In fact, to call someone a "Scrooge" should be more compliment than crack, since it is he who eventually repents from his selfish ways and embraces the joy of giving. Such a journey would be fitting for many of us.
So how many Scrooges walk among us today, reformed or otherwise?
Ours is a community celebrated for its big heart and open arms, and the charitable organizations we know (see accompanying list) attest to its giving nature.
But can we give more? That's hard to measure, especially in hard times. The sour economy that drove many into bankruptcy, unemployment and foreclosure has closed many checkbooks. For two years plus, governments have been strapped, businesses have been scraping by and families have settled for fewer trinkets under the tree.
Meanwhile, charities have had to work harder to meet an increasing need with diminishing resources. Even as the flame of recovery flickers a tiny bit brighter, many who seek to bring a bit of Christmas cheer to the downtrodden are scrambling to help everyone in need.
And it doesn't help when the headlines tell of a Salvation Army volunteer charged with stealing the kettle of donations he collected, or of frequent tales of scam artists preying upon people's generosity to stuff their own pockets.
That grinchiness, seasoned with the commercial din of Christmas excess playing on an endless loop — luxury cars, jewelry, TVs the size of garage doors — makes it easy to lose sight of the simple truth it took Scrooge one night to learn.
Christmas is about giving. Not just the presents we buy at stores or order on our PCs, to be boxed and shipped at the command of a credit card. It is about true giving to those who need our help, providing the real necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing, hope and love.
The namesake of the holiday was himself such an advocate, walking barefoot from town to town, sleeping on dirt floors and urging followers to give up their worldly needs and "love one another."
The first presents from the Magi to the child, offered in deference to his heavenly lineage, remind us that this holiday isn't about what we get, what we spend or how much eggnog we drink. It is about what each of us can do to aid the plight of our fellow man and woman. That is the true spirit of Christmas, past, present and future.
"Mankind was my business," the ghostly Jacob Marley tells his old partner Scrooge. "The common welfare was my business."
This is the message to remember when we take out the checkbook and plastic to buy more things. Perhaps one less item in the stocking, one less gift-wrapped doodad, one less token provided to a casual acquaintance could be turned into a meal or a toy for a child who has neither. Which gift has the greater impact in the end?
Scrooge, after his heart was turned and he provided a generous donation to two men collecting for the poor, said, "a great many back payments are included." So it's never too late to give as much as we can.
Many agencies and volunteers do their part to provide basic needs to those whose lives have not followed the script. These aren't merely faceless hobos; they are our neighbors and fellow church members who have lost jobs, homes and comfortable lives in the blink of an eye, once self-reliant and now struggling to make it through another day. They are children who study alongside ours in school, yet go home at night to shelters. They are us and we are them. How do we say no?
Charity is more than a one-time gift of money or canned goods to ease the conscience as we load the SUV with a pile of boxes. It is a state a mind that peaks at Christmas but should last all year.
Let's make the spirit of this blessed season real by giving our treasure, time and support to the good people who do their best to fulfill that commitment. Such acts best honor the man around whom Christmas revolves, and can turn us all into Scrooges, the redeemed version at novel's end who "knew how to keep Christmas well."
Let us be that Scrooge and do our part for the Bob Cratchits, Tiny Tims and other needy souls among us. In giving what we can, we will gain so much and help make mankind our business once again.