Holly Richardson: The best part of Christmas is the giving

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) l-r Melak Rashid, Fatima Alsafar, Diyar Almsalookhi and Waled Abdel Azziz at "A Shepherd's Gathering" welcoming holiday party, December 15, 2017 for Utah's refugee families. The party is sponsored by the Utah Refugee Center, The Granite Education Foundation and The Refugee & Immigrant Center-Asian Association of Utah.

“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

— Dr. Seuss, in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

There is no question Christmas can be frantic, frenetic and frazzling. But it can also be rewarding, renewing and even relaxing.

For me, the best part of Christmas is the giving. I love spending time and effort to choose gifts that mean something — and I know am not alone. I believe that at heart, human being are generous folk and we are naturally drawn to opportunities to do something that makes a difference.

Take my friends Thom and Lisa Reed. Growing up, Lisa watched her father reach out and care for many in their community, including those experiencing homelessness. In 2008, that became personal for Thom and Lisa when they lost their home. Lisa told me they were blessed by a safety net of friends, family and religious community, but they got a good look into how close many of us are to losing everything.

In 2016, inspired by the #LightTheWorld campaign from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they created the “Reed Blessing Bag” project. They and their friends filled 100 bags with winter essentials like chapstick, socks, hand warmers and throat lozenges and handed them out to people experiencing homelessness. This year, they were able to fill more than 250 bags and delivered them last week during #LightYourCommunity week. Their goal is to incorporate as an official nonprofit organization and expand their outreach to more than just Christmas-time.

Eye Care 4 Kids has served more than 100,000 people with vision screening, eye exams and eyeglasses over the last 15 years. This year, they are one of the recipients of the #LightTheWorld campaign by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and their bright red Giving Machines.

Joseph Carbone, Pediatric Optician and President and Founder, told me one of his experiences in helping to provide eye wear.

“A mother shared with me during her son’s eye exam that she was told four years ago that he needed glasses. Then, she told me of the struggle she had being a single mother raising and providing for her family. For four years she had a difficult decision to make every month — pay her rent and buy food for her family or buy eyeglasses for her son. She had tears streaming down her cheeks as I told her the exam and the eyeglasses were free.”

Another local organization, the Utah Food Bank, is also being highlighted in the Giving Machines and they told me the response has been heart-warming.

“Utah Food Bank is incredibly appreciative of the remarkable outpouring of support and exposure we have received through the Light the World charity vending initiative. Last year’s efforts allowed us to provide 282,000 meals for Utahns facing hunger. So far, this year’s response is shaping up to be even more remarkable, with 235,000 meals provided by the half-way point! With 1 in 7 Utah children facing hunger, these donations will go a long way in ensuring they don’t go to bed on an empty stomach and we can continue to fight hunger statewide.” Ginette Bott, Utah Food Bank President & CEO.

Another local charity to be highlighted in Salt Lake City’s Giving Machine is the Utah Refugee Connection. Shoppers can choose from among many options that benefit some of the 65,000 refugees living along the Wasatch Front: a picture dictionary to help with learning English, a volleyball, diapers, hygiene kits, sewing kits and more.

As word has spread about the work the Utah Refugee Connection is doing, community response has been tremendous. Amy Dott Harmer, Executive Director, shared with me the incredible outpouring of support they have seen this month. Their refugee “Sharehouse” was filled to overflowing as they prepared for their annual “Shepherd’s Gathering” last week.

Their goal was to collect 1,000 basic holiday “family kits” with needed household items. They got 2,000. They wanted to collect 1,000 Beanie Babies for refugee children. They got more than 2,000. Allred Orchards came and donate apples by the truckload. Gift cards were donated by the hundreds and the 1,500 refugees who attend the Shepherd’s Gathering left with smiles on their faces, gifts for their families and the knowledge that there are people who care.

Amy told me that the #LightTheWorld campaign is a good reminder to find ways to be engaged in your community. Even though it is promoted by the LDS church, it is non-denominational, as all people everywhere are encouraged to find ways to light their world, their family, their community and their faith.

“You can’t do everything for everyone but you can always do something for someone,” she told me.

May you light someone else’s life this week and may your own be lighted by those around you. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, loves seeing the many ways people can reach out and make a meaningful difference in the life of another.