The Shopping Philanthropist

Day 8: 0 items purchased    Temptation Radar: 0 on a scale of 10 (because I volunteered at a youth event all day)

After spending eight hours as a volunteer photographer for a youth rally today, it occurred to me that philanthropic pandemonium surrounds us these days. Look anywhere and you will see it: run a race for heart health, donate a toy for the poor and drink 20 margaritas, build a habitat for humanity; the list goes on and on. Come to think of it, tis always been the case. In high school, leaders organized clubs around the idea of service. Activities were driven by their ability to contribute to the greater good. We cleaned up littered highways, sang to the elderly in nursing homes, gave gifts to less fortunate children. Wait a minute; seems like I remember some sort of service hour minimum neccessary for graduation. Frankly, one was cattle prodded into the spirit of altruism. Fast forward a decade and one may find herself in a group like Junior League, or Mothers-Against-Something. Travel a decade further, you can create a facebook fan page for just about any cause; obsess yourself with sending  join & like messages to all your friends while setting up a donation link via pay pal, and tweeting comments about the awesomeness of everyone involved.

For some bizarre reason, I’ve always found it rather difficult to commit to charitable endeavors. I know, selfish me. But, let me explain. You see, to be really engaged and committed to a cause, the need must speak profoundly to your heart. It helps, too, when you can connect the heartstrings to your gifting in order to provide the ultimate service. For several years, I suffered with immeasurable guilt over my inability to serve the needy in a greater capacity.

Until…..

One afternoon in 2008, I had an encounter with my charitable destiny. A small shoppe had opened in our town. It was retail deliciousness….. with the finest offerings for infants and children. Customized crib bedding, boutique baby clothes and the sweetest selection of lovely gifts. Throughout several weeks of frequent visitation, I became quite fond of the owner. She opened the storefront with the intention of filling a need she perceived in the community, but early on realized the demand did not shout as loudly as she thought.  She had much invested and much to lose. There was talk of a 6 month revitalization plan. If unsuccessful, the doors would ultimately close. Word of this gave me a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. I swallowed hard. My mind immediately flashed back to 1995 when I learned that a young family in the community would have neither a tree or gifts that Christmas. I paused. How could two such drastically different scnenarios elicit the same emotional response?

It hit me like a $29.50 return check fee from Bank of America. OH.MY.GOSH.

SHOPPING PHILANTHROPIST EXTRAORDINARE! I am she! With a skip and a smile, I assured the store owner that I had a solution. I jumped in my car, thrilled to pieces, because my entire life I’d been shopping for philanthropic opportunities, failing to realize that my shopping IS philanthropic.

This awakening brought about a host of other opportunities to serve the greater good. I began attending and hosting trunk shows of every kind, for anyone who asked, in the name of “helping small businesses.” I took advantage of every sale known to man and loaded a closet with items labeled “future gifts” because at some point someone will “need” them. Oh yes! I’ll most certainly take that new pink Vera Bradley tote since the proceeds are for breast cancer research, after all. The list goes on and on and on.

So what happened to the shop? It did close its doors, but not until I had the owner and all of her wares to our home and hosted a 50% off trunk show to liquidate the inventory. She sold almost everything and gave me a boat load. I was elated, intoxicatingly fulfilled. After all,  “needy” doesn’t mean poor. It just means one has a need.

It leaves me to believe that many times the best “cause” is shopping  just because.

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