Doing My Part

22 Nov

ronald reagan, quote, we can't help everyone but everyone can help someone, volunteer, philanthropy, helping otherI think I’ve talked about this on my blog before, but because I’m such a fan of my own work I can’t remember.

I want to change the world.

When I was a kid I’d see those Sally Struthers commercials for the Christian Children Fund, and would cry. The idea that there were so many people suffering killed me, and even at a young age, I understood the magnitude of global hunger.

Children were starving to death, and there was nothing I could do about it.

My high school required all of its students to volunteer as part of their yearly academic requirements. They were trying to raise the future leaders of America, and believed that service to others makes you a better human being.

When I was a sophomore I volunteered at an armory which had been turned into a homeless shelter/soup kitchen. It was clear that the man who ran the program loved what he did, and that his enthusiasm was a bright spot in the day of the people he served.

An older man who had showed up to volunteer asked the manager how he did it.

“How do I do what?”

“This place is a reminder of poverty in our country. You’ve got to know that you’re only one person trying to solve a huge problem.”

“I’m just doing my part. I can’t do it all, but I can do my part.”

That made a huge impact on me. I can’t do it all, but I can do my part.

My parents are incredibly generous people. They’ve worked very hard for the life they have, but haven’t let it distort their view of the world. They understand that there are people out there struggling.

They always reinforced the idea that because we can help, we should help. Whether it’s money or time, it’s important for us to do something, anything. I’ve taken that with me into adulthood.

Fast forward many years, and the magnitude of the world’s problems is still pretty overwhelming. Poverty, sex trafficking, mental illness, addiction, natural disasters, AIDS, homelessness, domestic violence, animal abuse. Where does someone even start?

I have to start with my small portion of the world, and hope the ripple effect is taking place. I need to do something, anything.

I can’t fix homelessness, but I can buy gloves and socks at the dollar store, and pass them out to people I see on the street. I can’t fix domestic violence, but I can paint a women’s shelter so that battered women have a safe, inviting place to go. I can’t fix poverty, but I can donate canned goods to the local food pantry.

I am reminded of this because Friday is normally the day when I go around doing random things for strangers. Maybe it’s buying a drink for the person behind me in line at the coffee shop, or leaving a note of encouragement in self-help books at the library.

I don’t believe someone needs to be destitute before they need a little help.We all need it from time to time.

With the holidays looming, I know we’re all reminded of those less fortunate. Those who can’t eat, those who can’t afford presents for their children, those who can’t fly home and see their families.

Please don’t be overwhelmed. Buy one bag of rice, and donate it. Sit with an elderly person who hasn’t seen his/her family in years. Skip your routine coffee run, and put that money towards disaster victims. Leave a “you’re not alone” note it in a book meant for people coping with loneliness.

We can’t do it all, but we can do our part.

87 Responses to “Doing My Part”

  1. jaklumen 11/22/2013 at 4:30 pm #

    I have known homelessness and domestic violence. I continue to know poverty, mental illness, and the last dregs of addiction. So what can I do? Well, I just try to pay forward the kindnesses and help I and my family received, as best I can, despite my meager circumstances.

    My wife volunteered for an organization assisting people HIV+/AIDS, so it was something I saw up close and personal. Because of our orientations, really, it was an issue we came into contact with, even if we didn’t experience it directly.

    The little things matter, Jen, I assure you. They mattered to me and so many people I know and have known. You are on the right track.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:10 pm #

      “Well, I just try to pay forward the kindnesses and help I and my family received, as best I can, despite my meager circumstances.” And that’s all anyone can do. Sometimes helping someone with their groceries, or smiling at them is enough.

      • jaklumen 11/24/2013 at 5:11 pm #

        Aye. Lots of little things really do make a difference.

  2. shreejacob 11/22/2013 at 2:51 pm #

    Awesome post. For some reason the placing random notes in books sounds really interesting.
    You’re awesome too for doing all that you do. It is true. We do our part and trust that it will ripple out to touch another and then it just keeps on touching πŸ™‚

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:09 pm #

      Yep! One ripple touches another touches another touches another. That’s what I hope at least.

  3. speaker7 11/22/2013 at 1:32 pm #

    This is so true. When you think about all the problems, it can get a tad overwhelming and make you think “what’s the point?” But really, a simple kind gesture is the point.

    • samara 11/22/2013 at 3:20 pm #

      I’m new to your party, but this is a side to you I find magnificent.

      Small differences added up together, make up the large ones.
      I’m damn proud to donate my services for free to teenagers whose families could never afford them. I love making a difference. I love those kids. I love that my son witnesses this, and is growing up to understand helping others as a natural part of life.
      Thanks for the beautiful post. Have a wonderful weekend. Rock on. love, samara (ex SAT girl)

      • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:09 pm #

        It’s great that you’ve taken a skill you have, and have used it to help others who would never be able to afford it. It’s a lesson I’m sure your son will carry with him into adulthood.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:07 pm #

      Yes! “What’s the point?” I think a lot of us just give up. We want to do it all, and end up doing nothing.

  4. philosophermouseofthehedge 11/22/2013 at 12:26 pm #

    So wise. If everyone does just one little thing, the world would be a better place (and Sally, oooooh those commercials!). Liked the way you offered some ideas. Nicely done

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Imagine if we all took 5 minutes to do something great? Kind of blows my mind thinking about it.

  5. Love Associates 11/22/2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Awesome post Jen! Reading it was encouraging πŸ™‚

  6. oddgirlnextdoor 11/22/2013 at 12:12 pm #

    Wow, light bulb! I can honestly say I’d never considered a note in a self help book, but when you say it, it really makes sense. We plan on volunteering at a soup kitchen this year for xmas, and my daughter will be choosing a gift and possibly a gift card to go with said gift for a local child this year. Thank you for the reminder and great ideas to go with it. So getting shared. Thanks!

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:02 pm #

      Good for you for passing on the lesson to your daughter! It’s good to make people aware of what’s out there, and how they can participate in helping.

  7. NotAPunkRocker 11/22/2013 at 11:58 am #

    Very good reminder. Every bit counts when it comes to improving the world, whichever way you choose to do that.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:01 pm #

      “Every bit counts when it comes to improving the world, whichever way you choose to do that.” Exactly! We all have something to offer, no matter how that manifests itself.

  8. jeandayfriday 11/22/2013 at 11:51 am #

    Excellent post! It is good to be reminded that the little differences we make in people’s lives are important, too! You are awesome. πŸ™‚

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:00 pm #

      It is good, right? I think a lot of us feel so powerless, and like we can’t do it all. It’s a wonderful thought to know that we can do one small thing, and create a huge ripple effect.

  9. Calamity Rae 11/22/2013 at 11:49 am #

    okay now. I do not like to cry. I donated to scary mommy project and bought two families a thanksgiving meal, but I hate being so hands off. I love the idea of writing a note to someone and leaving it in a book about loneliness. or maybe depression. or maybe for me – a book about abuse, and telling them I know how they feel. stop making me cry.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Sorry for the sadsies!

      I know what you mean about being hands off. I also donate, but feel like I could be doing more. I think writing a note in a book about abuse would be lovely. Sometimes all a person needs to know is that someone else out there “gets it.”

  10. The Cutter 11/22/2013 at 11:38 am #

    This is awesome of you. I have been trying to make weekly food donations to a food drive. I know it’s not much, and I could do much more, but every little bit helps, right?

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Hey, every little bit helps! Never underestimate how far your donation could go.

  11. mylifeisthebestlife 11/22/2013 at 11:34 am #

    I love this fully and completely. I try to do my part, but this inspires me to do more. At least a little more. Because I can.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:58 pm #

      There are so many small gestures we can do. Sometimes I try to say hi or start conversation with people who look like they might need it. It costs nothing, but could be priceless.

  12. rarasaur 11/22/2013 at 11:02 am #

    I had a very similar quote painted on my wall as a kid. “No one can do everything– but everyone can do something.” It’s one of my mom’s teaching mantras, and she wins– it’s fully ingrained in my brain. Thursdays are my give-y days. I try every day, of course, but keeping a specific day in mind makes it less overwhelming. I love this post. You are awesome! And you’ve already changed the world.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:57 pm #

      YAY for thursdays! I agree that having one day makes it seem less overwhelming. It also becomes a habit, and then you don’t have that guilt pangs when you forget to help out.

  13. michellestodden 11/22/2013 at 10:59 am #

    Yes! I was so dirt poor for so long that I now try to do little things like this on a regular basis. Honestly, I think I get the better end of the deal. I feel warm and fuzzy inside for days after helping out some random person. I’m trying to teach my daughter to do the same. I believe there’s more than enough to go around if we all help each other out.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:55 pm #

      I ALSO believe there is more than enough to go around. It’s really great that you give back now that you have the means to. Not that I’m surprised. You are an awesome person.

  14. Soul Walker 11/22/2013 at 10:39 am #

    I remember the first time I saw a mal-nourished child in person. Those TV commercials always used to get me but… this was so different. I was in Africa in a small village. There was a clinic that someone had started and we went to visit it. This nurse was holding this little kid. They told us he was years older than we would have guessed. They told us he was actually better than when he had come in to the clinic. None of us could really imagine how that kid could have looked worse. You could count his ribs. There were flies buzzing around him and he was not swatting at them. He looked almost comatose. There was a look in his eyes that I could not describe to you in words. It was the most vacant stare I had seen in anyone at that point in my life. It still haunts me. It sits with me amidst all the other pains and griefs that weigh down my soul. Someone picked that child up out of the dirt and gave him an I.V…. they didn’t cure world hunger, but fed that one child. They did their part.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:55 pm #

      I can’t even begin to imagine seeing that in person. I think, even when it’s on tv, you’re still somewhat removed from the problems. To see it up close must be a completely different experience.

      Good on you for being part of the solution.

      • Soul Walker 11/24/2013 at 8:36 pm #

        Well that blonde-haired, fair-skinned nurse was part of the solution… I am not exactly sure what I was or am… but I have seen more things first hand than I ever thought I would.

  15. Becki Duckworth 11/22/2013 at 10:34 am #

    Thank you for posting this. I agree, it is hard to figure out where to start. It’s the little things that make a difference. Also teaching our children young to have compassion and give to the less fortunate is very important. There was a homeless camp in Portland Oregon right outside of my office. This camp was thrown in a very high rent district. Most of the office buildings housed power lawyers, real estate executives, and producers in the TV and film industry. These people had money to give a few bucks to the homeless. Instead they would walk by the camp when leaving their offices and snub the homeless and never hand them a dime.

    After a Christmas party in my office, it dawned on me that these homeless folks and their kids did not have a Christmas tree. My company had an un-decorated tree they were going to throw in the dumpster. I went to the rite aid and purchased some colored construction paper in green and red. I drug that tree with construction paper, scissors and a stapler in hand along with some zip ties to where the homeless were. With 2 children that were in the camp we cut the construction paper into strips and made rings and stapled them together to make a long chain and decorated the tree. We zip tied the tree to the cyclone fence by their camp and bam !! they had a tree. They were so thankful and excited. I went to several of the offices in the area and asked if the employes could please donate some items and I would collect them and wrap them so on Christmas eve I could put them under the tree. On Christmas eve I had 14 gifts to place under that tree. I never in my life seen people so happy. It took very little effort on my part to make a huge group of people so happy.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:54 pm #

      Hey! I’m also from Portland. Unfortunately, I’ve seen what you have spoken of in regards to people ignoring the homeless downtown. There are so many of them, and I think people have becomes so accustomed that they’ve forgotten these are human beings.

      Love that you went to all that effort to give someone else a Christmas tree. You embody the generous spirit this season is all about.

      • Becki Duckworth 11/24/2013 at 1:01 pm #

        I thought you might be in PDX. My office was in the Pearl. An area where people could afford to help. It was a great experience I will never forget. I actually live out in Beaverton. Enjoy this beautiful sunny day we are having. Chilly but at least sunny.

        • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:03 pm #

          Oh yeah, there is PLENTY of money to go around in the Pearl. I find that the more money an area has, the more out of touch they become with reality.

          I used to live out in the Murray Hill area, and am hoping to get back out there. Everyone makes fun of the ‘burbs here, but what can I say…I loved it.

          Enjoy the sun as well!

          • Becki Duckworth 11/24/2013 at 1:16 pm #

            I love it too. That’s exactly where I am πŸ™‚ Been out here over 20 years. You are right the more money the less compassion.

          • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:18 pm #

            I’ll be organizing a Portland blogger meetup in the near-ish future, and hope you’ll be able to make it. I’ll keep you posted!

          • Becki Duckworth 11/24/2013 at 1:22 pm #

            I would love to, YAY!! I am now secretly wondering if you went to school with one of my sons. He went to Southridge and is 29 yrs old. The other is 23 yrs. old. I will be here until January 31st and then leaving for sun 365 days a year!!

          • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:23 pm #

            Nope! I grew up in CA, and only moved to Oregon 5 years ago.

            Wait, you’re leaving us?!?!?

          • Becki Duckworth 11/24/2013 at 1:27 pm #

            Ok , Yes we are but not until January 31st. I would love to come to the event if its prior to then. I have been in this ridiculous rain for 26 years.. Time to head to the desert!

          • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 1:31 pm #

            Should be before then. I’ll keep you posted!

          • Becki Duckworth 11/24/2013 at 1:40 pm #

            YAY, let me know if I can help.

  16. RFL 11/22/2013 at 10:33 am #

    Amen to everything in this post. Didn’t think it was possible to like you more than I already did, but I was clearly mistaken.

  17. Twindaddy 11/22/2013 at 10:17 am #

    There are no words for awesome this post is.

  18. Psychobabble 11/22/2013 at 10:03 am #


  19. donofalltrades 11/22/2013 at 9:48 am #

    You’re so sweet. True story – I threw a hot, fresh White Castle cheeseburger with extra pickles out of my patrol car to a stray dog that looked like it hadn’t eaten in weeks and it sniffed it, looked at me like I was a douche bag and then pissed on the sandwich before walking away. WTF was that!?? Jerk.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:49 pm #

      I had a similar situation once before! I buy boxes of those individual snack packs, and give them out to people instead of money. One guy got super pissed and said, “I don’t eat gluten.”

      Only in Portland.

  20. Maggie O'C 11/22/2013 at 9:46 am #

    I like the note idea. I like all of it but I’ve never thought of that one. Happy Friday Jen.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:48 pm #

      I love doing this at Powell’s, especially because it’s a tourist destination as well. You never know who your note will reach.

  21. Ruby Tuesday 11/22/2013 at 9:43 am #

    You are are a shining reminder that President Kennedy’s hopes, visions, and ideals did not die 50 years ago in Dallas. Thank you for sharing this today especially. Every day, but today especially.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:48 pm #

      The holidays always get me thinking because I have so much, and some people have so little.

  22. Katie 11/22/2013 at 9:41 am #

    Especially around Thanksgiving, it’s a great time to go through your cabinets and fill a box to donate. You’re never going to eat all of those jars of peanut butter you bought in bulk when they were on sale.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Great point. I have cans of beans that I’ll never eat since I no longer eat them. This is a good reminder to donate what I won’t use.

  23. Brigitte 11/22/2013 at 9:37 am #

    Jen, what a great post. And you’re so right about we can all do our part. And it is indeed, the “little things” that matter and as you’ve mentioned here, a gesture of kindness — however big or small — can change a life. I love that idea of putting a note inside a book — that’s great. This post is great and so are you for writing it. Thanks for this and I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:46 pm #

      The note in the book is such a simple (and free!) thing to do to brighten someone’s day.

  24. CrazySmartClueless 11/22/2013 at 9:35 am #

    Yay you! I just volunteered me and my dog for pet therapy at the local hospital and hospice. Can’t make them not sick.. but can make them smile by petting my goofy dog

    • Jen and Tonic 11/24/2013 at 12:45 pm #

      That’s GREAT! You’re even getting your dog into the spirit.


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