The Spirit Of Giving

sleepout king

This is Peter Larson.  I love this kid.  I’ve never met him, but he makes the local news this time every year when he sleeps outside in a cardboard box for 49 nights (ending December 31) to raise money for The Sleep Out, which is a Twin Cities fundraiser to help homeless people in our area.  This 2007 photo ran with a story in the Star Tribune (11/16).  Okay, so you may have heard about our balmy fall this year, but this is still Minnesota, and we’re dipping below freezing at night now, and meteorological winter has just begun.  Peter uses the sleeping bag his grandmother made 39 years ago (what’s not to love?) and this will be his 12th year.  He’s raised almost $400,000, and he hope to add another $100,000 this 12th and final time.  He’s a high school senior.  Did I mention he started doing this when he was 6?  A supporter of the fundraiser talked it up to Peter’s Cub Scout pack, and when the boy found out that $575 could keep a family in their home for a month, he said, “I can do that.” 

Last month I helped drive my granddaughter’s Girl Scouts to the local food shelf for a tour.  Next week the group will pack and decorate holiday care packages that will be shipped to our troops in the Middle East.  Times are tougher than usual for most Americans this year, but the Grinch will not steal Christmas if people like Peter have anything to say about it.

kettle The needs are great.  My phone rings once or twice a day with solicitation calls for worthy causes that I’ve supported at one time or another.  I don’t give over the phone, but I’ll pick a couple and ask them to send me the mailer.  Not only is it important to me to do what I can, but I want the grandchildren to be involved.  We never pass up a Salvation Army kettle.  We keep a cache of quarters in the car.  Inside the grocery store, we add a few things or maybe the pre-packed bag to the cart and drop it in the food shelf bin.  (Just heard that peanut butter is a high demand item this year.)  The girls help box up giveaway stuff when we switch seasons in the closets, too. 

Every Christmas Eve my daughter and son-in-law organize a family blood drive.  We’ve done this for years, and it’s always topped off with a brunch at someone’s house.  The kids get to watch from a distance—don’t want them tripping over blood-letting equipment—and it’s a healthy experience.  Well, one time Nana caused a little stir when she got up too soon, but they learned from that, too. 

Among the Lakota, generosity is paramount.  Giving is part of every ceremony and celebration, and sacrifice for the good of the community is an honor.  The spirit of giving is alive and well in Indian country even in lean times.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Let’s talk about giving.  ‘Tis the season.

About Kathleen Eagle

Kathleen Eagle is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of over forty novels.
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18 Responses to The Spirit Of Giving

  1. Susan Shay says:

    Kathleen–I’m glad I know you–even though it’s only through books and blogs. You’re good people. THANK YOU for sharing–with those in need and with those of us who need to hear a word about giving. I think I just found my Christmas Spirit.

    • Susan, I’m glad I know you. ‘Tis also the season for the joy of friendship. Readers and writers come together through books, and between the 2 processes–writing and reading–a story is born. And a friendship across the pages–better than across the miles!

  2. The Spirit of Giving = the true meaning of Christmas. Thank you, Kathleen, for the reminder. Often we get so tied up in our own personal woes, we forget there are others whose needs are far beyond our own. Your story about Peter Larson is inspiring. What a terrific young man.

  3. Cindy Gerard says:

    Thanks for a much needed dose of Christmas spirit, Kathy. And Peter IS amazing. I’ve always found that I find the most pleasure from preparing the gift boxes for our troops or from a child whose name I picked off a Christmas tree in the bank or the mall.

    • Don’t you love those trees? They have a giving tree at the girls’ school. It’s filled with apples meant to be picked by adults who can fill the need (in the form of gift cards) written on the apples. We drop our gifts off at the office, and they go where the need is.

      And don’t you love mitten trees? This time of year I tuck a small pair of mittens in my coat pocket in case I see a mitten tree.

  4. C.J. Miller says:

    Toys for Tots bins are everywhere in my community (food stores, bank, churches) which makes it easy to get toys in children’s hands. A local high school also organizes a program where teams adopt an entire family and buy toys, clothes, food, etc. That’s pretty fun too!

  5. Toys For Tots is terrific. And if you take your gift to the T for T truck at the TV station, you might be greeted by a handsome Marine. A nice bonus!

  6. loisgreiman says:

    So right, Kathleen. Hey, we topdowners should do some kind of charitable fundraising for Christmas.

    • GREAT idea, Lois! Something for kids, maybe? I just read an update about the Post Office’s Operation Santa, which has been alive and well since the 1940’s. Groups and idividuals can adopt a letter, but you have to go to a participating p.o. in person to do that. There are something like 70 participating sites. It looks like we only have 1 in the Twin Cities.

  7. Leanne Banks says:

    Kathleen, thank you so much for sharing Peter’s story! So inspiring!!! I like to donate on a regular basis to the food pantry. Like you, I heard about the need for peanut butter and bought four jars to donate. The grocery store also gave an opportunity where you could donate money for a Thanksgiving meal and they would match it, so I did that. In his gift requests, my husband often asks for donations made to where you can donate a cow to a family. At the end of the year, I also make monetary donations to my charities. I feel very grateful when giving and helping is so easy!

  8. michelehauf says:

    I saw that kid on the news. Wowness. I love it when kids teach us things.

    I have a few ‘sisters’ in the Women For Women organization. I love that charity because it pays for women in war-torn countries to go to school and learn skills to support their families. And a new one I just learned about that helps feed American children who may go to school without having eaten (who can learn without the proper food?) is Share Our Strength. it’s at

  9. Kylie Brant says:

    There are so many needy families in my school. I like to give a check in Dec. to the school nurse and she selects a family she knows is having a tough time and puts together some donations for them. I don’t need to know who it is…but I do like knowing I’ve helped someone in my school family.

  10. pjpuppymom says:

    What a thoughtful and generous young man. I hope he has a wonderful life! Thank you for telling us about him, Kathleen and about what you and your family do for others.

    My grandmother taught me the joy of giving at a young age and it’s a lesson I took to heart. I volunteer year around and do what I can to help others in every month, not just over the holidays. We have a wonderful homeless shelter in our small town and are in the midst of a canned food drive for them at work. I also support our local Red Cross chapter. There seem to be an abundance of fires this time of the year and the Red Cross people are usually among the first on the scene to lend support, money and clothing when these tragedies happen. (I experienced this first-hand when my next door neighbor’s house burned to the ground, leaving them with nothing)

    We have a program at my church (supported by year-round donations) where we adopt families at Christmas. (the families are chosen by a small committee from church with the assistance of schools and social workers) On a designated Saturday morning in December, each family is taken shopping at a local department store by their sponsor family where every member of the family gets new shoes and a new, warm winter coat. Then they come back to the church for a pizza party. Each child also fills out a Santa wish list (which is selected by Church members who “adopt” that child) and on Christmas Eve (when the children are at church services), Santa’s elves deliver the wrapped gifts from the wish lists to the various homes. (this is pre-arranged with parents so someone is at the home to let us in.) It’s a wonderful program that’s been going on for many years and brings holiday joy to so many needy members of our community.

    You don’t have to do a lot to help someone in need. Even the smallest gesture lets them know that somebody cares.

    • puppymom, I especially love the image of Santa’s elves making house calls. I’m still a believer because Santa came to our house when I was 7 and brought me a beautiful blue full-size bike.

  11. MaryC says:

    My apartment complex does a yearly food drive to support a local shelter for the homeless and a Toy For Tots drive. This year they are also collecting coats for those in need.
    I discovered a site called Network For Good which allows the purchase of gift cards. The recipient can then go to the site and choose which charity he wants the gift card to go to. I’m giving one to each of the nieces and nephews as part of their gift. While I coud just make a donation in their name, I hope this will interest them in helping those in need.

  12. Kathleen O says:

    I try to give to everything I can. Salavation Army is my big one and I give to the Food bank. One year I won a whole lot of Turkeys and Hams at Christmas Raffle night… I have some to the Turkeys and Hams to The Salavation Army along with all the fixings for a holiday meal. I always give to the Toy Drive and the Make A Wish Fondation and our Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto… I do what I can with what I have.

    • You’re a generous lady, Kathleen. A whole lot of turkeys and hams! What a nice windfall, and what a great idea to add the fixings for your donations. I’ve read that the Salvation Army is one of the best charities because they’re everywhere, they’re dedicated, and they keep the overhead really low.

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