LETTER: Ideas for a Holiday Wish List

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor:

My mother, a woman who basically saw her multi-million dollar beach-front home not as proof of  how much my Dad adored her — but as a resting place for the homeless, unemployed and forgotten in need of a warm hug, chicken quesadilla, hot shower and overnight stay, used to instruct me to go the VW camper van — it was parked in our yard — and unlock the door — whenever a certain Christmas-y jingle emanated from the front gate — the signal that a homeless Vet would soon be our overnight guest.

During one holiday season, my Mom’s Wish List included a new washer and dryer —to be installed in the same backyard — under a hut — so her Vietnam Vet friends could do their laundry, restored and refreshed by their best friend Judy. At my mom’s wake, 20 homeless men told me: “Jodi, your Mom was my best friend.”

And, so, for this Christmas/Chanukah/Holiday season I pass on the joy of giving that my Mom taught me and so many others. Her giving to the poor was never dreary. It was never simply an afterthought on her holiday check list. She looked for stylish and humorous and out-of-the-box ways to give to her friends. She relished their visits, she didn’t withstand them.

If one fellow adored sweet potato pie more than pumpkin, she changed up her recipe just for him; if one fellow’s nagging corns caused him great pain, she arranged for the local foot doctor to visit the VW van whenever he stopped by. I remember one of her friends loved the “TV Guide”…so she subscribed to the publication (we didn’t have a TV in our beach house) and saved every month’s copy to give to him. In her will, she instructed that I go to the bank, take out $200 and buy him a TV. This was before flat screen TVs. She was confident that by the time she passed away, he would have a home. She didn’t know she would die so soon. I delivered his TV to him; he cried in my arms and told me “Because your Mom believed in me, I’ll have a place to plug it in one day.”

For Judy, charity was never a drop off event; an alternative to Spring Break; a check one writes to the nearby food pantry/shelter, charity was the chance to love others — no strings attached; it was a chance to be in a relationship with utter creativity at its core. In honor of my mom, I give you several ideas to help you be in relationship with your neighbors this holiday season, to rejoice for all that you have been blessed with, to spread your gratitude to these deserving new friends!

  • Call up Pastor Lloyd at Greenwich Baptist Church. Offer to buy every child who lives in Armstrong Court a new pair of tennis shoes from Shoes N’ More on Greenwich Avenue. 203-869-2437
  • Call up Bob D’Angelo and offer to pay one year’s tuition for a kid who attends the YMCA’s daycare program. Make that 2! Offer to pay for four Title 1 kids to take free swimming lessons. 203-869-1630
  • Call up Rabbi Yossi Deren and offer to pay for a scholarship to Camp Gan for a family that has three children and can’t afford to send their last child to camp. 203-629-9059
  • Call up The Greenwich Alliance for Education and give five Greenwich AVID High School graduates a $1,000 dollars to help them with expenses as they near completion of their college degree. They are the first in their family to go to college! Tell them how proud you are of them and that you can’t wait to see them take on the world after graduation and that you expect them to keep in touch with you! Tell them your door is open every Thanksgiving when they are on school break. 203-340-2323
  • Call up Sharon Kalinski at Greenwich Christian Preschool, the most charitable non-profit preschool in town offering an affordable, dynamic early childhood education to middle class families. Donate $10,000, $20,000, $200,000. Tell her, “Sharon, you boldly stepped out to serve in an area of need on faith alone without waiting for any agency.” If the Town of Greenwich had 10 women like Ms. Kalinski there would be no achievement gap in our community. Second generational poverty would be wiped out. 203-869-8199

Tell your spouse and kids, “Please, let us simply go to our respective synagogue, church, for services this year. Whatever money we were going to spend on each other, let’s write a letter detailing all the times we have been grateful to our Rabbi and/or Pastor for their sacrifice of time and attention.”

See what your heart does when you approach the holidays this way? Of course, bonus of bonuses you won’t have to return a thing or fight for a spot at the lunch-counter at Bloomingdales on Return Day. You won’t suffer that crazy-busy-empty guilty feeling after running out of L’Occitane after rushing the poor clerk to wrap up 20- just in case $35 gifts for your hairdresser, child’s teacher, butcher, friend of a friend’s admission’s advisor, now-I-have-to-give-a-gift-back-to-her present.

Instead, you will have taken a break from frenzied buying and selling, just for a year— discovering on January 1, 2016 that you can’t stop thinking about the folks whose lives you have impacted so beautifully. Suddenly, living in Greenwich means something so much more now.

You pass the Y; you drive by Armstrong Court; you see the children run out of the school building of their Title 1 school. You don’t live here while they live there. You feel connected to the whole Town; you love living here. And, you know why you do.

Jodi Weisz

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