Recently, our local paper has run a couple of stories about quiet givers. One was about Jim Olsen of Whatley’s Signature Sounds label donating the 15 year-old company’s entire collection—83 recordings—to the town’s library. Librarian Tiffany Hilton wished she had more money to get music into the collection and so she asked resident (and Signature Sounds’ owner) Jim Olsen to sell her CD’s—slowly, given the acquisition budget is small—for the library. Olsen said, "That got me to thinking. I thought it would be a really great idea to donate our collection to the library." Beyond enhancing the library, the donation will also serve as a “kind of archive” for Signature Sounds, as well.
Another was a story about Richard Moodie. Neighbor to the Northampton Survival Center, he gave a $200,000 gift to the nonprofit. Since 1985, the 30 year-old NSC has been housed in a facility formerly used by the recreation department. Moodie’s gift catapults the organization's fundrasing efforts. The organization hopes to renovate the building in order to better accommodate its volunteers and clients. The NSC distributes 2,000 pounds of food per day and helps 4,000 low-income people in 16 Hampshire county communities. Moodie, who worked at Northampton State Hospital for 21 years until he retired in 1992, volunteered briefly at the center but found it, according to NSC director Heidi Nortonsmith, “too hectic.” In a prepared statement, he said, “I live in this community, and I wanted to give back to it. I see the problems this city has, and I wanted to act on them.” Moodie has lived with his parents his entire life and he made the gift in their honor (his father passed away last year at age 93).
This summer, I was saddened to read that former Smith College professor Dilman Doland passed away. Our paths crossed because he lived in the top floor flat of what is now our house (when we bought the house, he moved to Lathrop Communities). He was another quiet giver. A longtime volunteer, Doland’s wife, Kathleen, was reference librarian at the Forbes from 1956-1962. He gave a major gift in the 1990’s toward the library’s renovation and the Reference room is named in her honor. Janet Moulding, director of the Forbes Library echoed my experience of this former professor as a “kind, thoughtful, and delightful man.”
At the Smith College Campus School, a sixth grader last year was so moved by reading the book, Three Cups of Tea, the class began a Pennies for Peace fundraising effort, placing a large container in the front hall, along with an explanation of how the pennies could add up to something larger. Their hope, according to teacher Tom Weiner, was to raise $100. By the time the class counted them up, the pennies added up to $400.
For many of us with young children, October brings attentions to Halloween. I’m gearing up for one of our family’s Halloween “traditions” (it isn’t all that formal): the Halloween Candy Buy-Back. Here’s how I work it: any candy you don’t want, I will buy back (depending on my generosity and my kids’ persuasiveness, from a dime to a quarter per piece) and then the child gives that money to a cause of his (I’m thinking Saskia, who will be twenty months then, is a bit too young for this ritual) choice.
Lucien, proving himself to be a stellar fundraiser by age nine, got me to match his UNICEF donation a couple of years’ back (and of course, therafter). The first year we did this was 2004, and he brought two dollars into the Northampton Kerry for President campaign office a night or so before the election (last year, everyone chose Obama campaign as recipient). He was given a bumper sticker. He felt like he’d done something. Perhaps my favorite gift of all was Remy’s ten dollars to the Paintbox Theatre, a thing he loves, and a gift he thought up entirely on his own.
The Halloween Candy Buy-Back is—to my mind—a perfect example of win-win: we have less candy in the house, even though our neighborhood is a stellar one for trick or treating (and who wants to cut the fun short?). The message that the kids have received a gift of the candy (not an entitlement) is telegraphed by the fact that they don’t keep the monies for candy returned for their own pockets. Instead, they pay it forward, a concept that I’d like to reinforce for the simple reason that it’ll make their lives so much better. It’s the Jewish tzedakah. It’s the Beatles’ line—“and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
Amongst the many reasons I love Northampton, one is that its biggest civic events are not Fourth of July Parade or Memorial Day Parade, but rather the Pride March and the Hot Chocolate Run & Walk. The Run/Walk, held December 5th this year, benefits Safe Passage, an organization that helps women experiencing domestic violence, with hotline and other services as well as a shelter house. As the name of the event explains, there’s a warm, sweet reward at journey’s end (hits the spot perfectly on an inevitably brisk morning; the walk takes place in December after all). When I think about both of these gatherings, the unflashy gifts—not just tolerance but support, helping women and children in need—seem like great descriptors of our community.