I have two opinions about national special helping days. Certainly a day like today’s Make A Difference Day, can be the beginning of a new chapter in one’s life. It’s a good way to steer one’s compassionate instincts towards constructive activity. I also know that these kind of action days can be superficial. A person might believe that since she has helped in some way, on one day, that she has done her social share of volunteering for a year. Business interests get involved because charity is great public relations.
If a person can get beyond the superficial, cynical view of Make A Difference Day activities, that person can make a positive impact on life.
Certainly one day clean-up projects in public parks and roadsides are worthy of our time. They present opportunities to involve youth and the public at large in something that benefits the whole community. Perhaps clean-up projects encourage the participants to refrain from littering in the future.
Canned food drives for the local food pantry present an opportunity to directly help the needy. Donors need to keep in mind that cleaning out the cupboard of exotic food purchase mistakes is not helpful. Food pantries need healthy basic, staple food, not some peculiar gourmet German mustard that will end up being discarded by the charity.
Some groups have book drives. I’m a bit skeptical of the value of these efforts. Again, donors tend to clear their shelves and attics of dull books and magazines that they couldn’t finish reading. With the advent of the Web, people can readily obtain reading material online. For the unconnected, people who want to read obtain material from public libraries. If you believe a book is awful, donate it to a thrift store or to a recycling center.
On a related note, I’ve often wondered what is up with used eyeglasses that are collected by the Lions Club. As an eyeglass wearer, I know that each pair of glasses is custom made for one individual. I cannot imagine how one pair of my old glasses could even be remotely helpful to another person. There is also an issue with hygiene. Perhaps one of my readers belongs to the Lions Club and can inform me.
I do like the idea of groups holding community rummage and garage sales to raise funds for legitimate charities. As long as donors contribute gently used items and not worn out things from the basement, the fund-drive will greatly benefit. These are fine opportunities for students and community groups to socialize, too.
Today might be the day that you decide to finally volunteer for the long run. The community pages of the phone book lists volunteer organizations that provide practical, needed services in your own town. I looked over the list in the Norfolk, Nebraska phone directory and noted dozens of excellent organizations. The best ones communicate with people in need, so that our well-intended efforts are not misdirected or harmful.
Communication with those in need is probably one of the most important aspects of Make A Difference Day. This prevents people in need from having to accept unnecessary “help” from volunteers who will then resent interference from do-gooders. Communication will also enable a team effort that includes the needy gladly working with volunteers on projects.
By all means, if we feel moved to participate in a one-day volunteer activity, today, we should follow up on that urge. When we physically act to meaningfully benefit others, we benefit, too. Who knows? Maybe helping will become a habit.