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November 27, 2007

A Heartwarming Housewarming

Homehands “It’s a housewarming party.” read the invitation, “Bring a gift.”   Nine years ago, an exhausting combination of relentless searching, vicious bargaining, and luck had landed my husband and I a lovely apartment.  Thrilled, we decided to have a housewarming party.  And rather than get gifts we didn’t need, we decided to collect gifts for those in need. 

“We’re so happy in our new home we want to help others be happy in theirs,” the invitation continued inside the flap.  We asked guests to bring, in lieu of a housewarming present for us, new or used household items, clothing, toys, or gifts to benefit Homes For The Homeless, a non-profit organization that helps homeless women and children find and furnish permanent homes.

Our friends were floored. “I’m proud to be your friend.” was one message left on our machine.   “Are you doing this to show the rest of us up?” asked one (now ex-) friend.  When I laughed in response, she said “No really.  What’s the deal?  To let us know you have a lot?  To make us all look bad?” 
   

“I think you’ve done that all by yourself” I answered.  Or I wish I did.  Actually, I think I apologized.  Imagine, I felt the need to apologize for doing something charitable   

Look, I’m a mother and a TV writer. It’s not like I’m out there every day, or even every month, helping people.  But before the kids were born, several times a year my husband and I would go to Dorot get a packaged meal, and deliver it along with some kind words to a homebound elderly person.  Once a year we spent a few hours clearing out trash and muck in a city park on NY Cares Day; we played bingo with residents of a  nursing home, I read to small children at a local public school. We were not extraordinary, I think, but ordinary.  I want to think that.  Because if the little we did made us exceptional, how little must everyone else be doing?

I don’t want my kids to feel that being charitable is extraordinary.  I don’t want them to feel they should be rewarded for it.  I want them to just do it because THAT'S WHAT DECENT PEOPLE DO.

Only problem is, since my kids were born, I haven’t felt like I had the time to do charitable things. Of course I have. It's an excuse. I've had time for manicures, and lunch with the girls, and shoe shopping.  I’ve just gotten out of the habit of giving.   The only charitable thing I’ve done wasn’t  really altruistic, just part of living in New York where your neighbors are only a few inches of sheet rock away:  For years, I took my twins to visit the three elderly widows in our building.  Every Halloween, we’d stop by to show them their costumes.  Or we’d bring over a new toy for them to see, or a cookie we’d baked.  We visited every few weeks on some pretense or another.  We were good neighbors.  True, these women weren’t poor, or starving, or even completely deprived of visitors, but our visits meant enough to them that at each of their funerals over the last several years, my children and I were mentioned.   I miss those women, they became good friends. And selfishly, I miss the easy chance they afforded me to make sure my children do something good for others. 

So to make sure they continue doing good, I went on the internet and found the Mayor’s volunteer site. Through that, I found a place that wanted handmade Thanksgiving cards for homebound elderly seniors and we made them together.  I signed them up to donate one of their birthday gifts each year to an underprivileged child through  Children for Children. And next weekend, I’m taking them on their first Dorot food delivery. Because you can say that you want your kids to have good values all you want. But until you do something about it, you might as well have a party to which nobody comes. 

Speaking of parties, since that first housewarming, my husband and I have made almost every party we've had a benefit of some kind.  Because we may be interested in setting a good example, and giving of ourselves, but we also want to give ourselves and our friends a good time in the bargain. 

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