A Christmas Lesson About Service

Member Group : Freindly Fire

"The true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart." – Santa Claus in "Polar Express."

Taking that message to heart, Christmas came early for the fourth-graders of St. Mary Magdalen School in Media, as they put into practice that nearly-forgotten adage "give, and you shall receive."

And give they did.

Inspired with ideas of service from teachers Debbie Otarola and Maureen Clark, and utilizing their budding independence – a rarity in The Coddled Generation – the class helped determine whom they were going to help this Christmas season. After deciding to "adopt" a parish family in need, the students then learned another critical lesson – money doesn’t grow on trees.

Putting on their "thinking caps," they were charged with figuring out how to raise money to pay for the things that would bring joy to those less fortunate than themselves.

So, as the famous Smith Barney commercial said, they made money the old fashioned way. They earned it.

The students assisted in organizing two bake sales, helping mom come through with the most delicious sweets in the school. But even more impressive, they tasked themselves to perform jobs for a variety of people, from doing more at home, to helping a neighbor rake leaves, to assisting mothers with little children.

And their diligence paid off – big time – as they collected a whopping $1,380 dollars in just a few short weeks.

Now that the "hard" part was done, the class, along with the teachers and a parent from virtually every student’s family – a testament to the scope of involvement – set out to do the shopping at the Brinton Lake Target in Glen Mills. To maximize their purchasing power, they learned to shop the smart way, looking for sale items, buy-one-get-one-frees, and products with rebates.

As they started buying the presents they would be giving – toys, clothes, winter coats – they discovered, to their wondrous surprise, that they would also be "receiving."

Target got into the spirit by donating two $50 gift cards and gave a 20 percent discount on all the purchases – savings that the students used to buy even more items, because, in addition to the adopted family, the class donated toys and baby items to CityTeam Ministries in Philadelphia, St. Katharine Drexel Food Pantry and Catholic Social Services (both in Chester), and Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Darby. And to top it off, the store’s management gave the students snacks and drinks to help them celebrate their act of holiday goodwill.

Was Target’s generosity driven to help their bottom line; was its hospitality motivated to generate publicity and garner positive word-of-mouth? Absolutely not. Charity should be anonymous, and that’s exactly how Target played it. There were no press releases, no communications executives to promote the story, no public fanfare. Instead, its benevolence was based on the most noble aspect of corporate responsibility: Doing something solely because it is the right thing to do.

And make no mistake. There are many Scrooge business owners who would never contemplate such kindness, let alone act on it. In an age where many businesses have become cutthroat in the pursuit of more profits, Target showed that altruism, especially at Christmastime, isn’t limited to fairy tales and Hollywood movies. Thank you Target, for being so on-target in teaching our young children that chivalry isn’t dead.

Upon returning with their haul, the students helped sort and wrap the gifts, and wrote notes to the recipients. They then formed an assembly line from the classroom to the waiting SUV "sleighs" that would deliver the Christmas cheer. And the students, armed with the pride of knowing their efforts would touch the lives of fellow neighbors, also sensed that it wouldn’t be the gifts that would generate the most smiles – and tears – but their act of pure kindness. No ulterior motives, no hidden agendas. Just people helping people, in the truest sense of what Christmas should be all about.

The lessons learned by the St. Mary Magdalen fourth-graders are ones that we could all use as a "refresher." In our hectic world, it’s all too easy to forget about the things that truly matter: Taking ownership of our actions – both good and bad – when so many pass the buck on accountability; being proud – not the pride of conceit, but the gratification that comes with putting in a honest day’s work and having something both tangible and in the heart to show for it; and perhaps above all, service – that our greatest contribution to society is doing things outside of ourselves. In a self-absorbed world that is becoming ever more narcissistic, where empathy for our fellow man is eroding at a lightning pace, it is reassuring to know that our children – our future – are being taught the timeless virtues of generosity and goodwill.

You can tell a lot about a society by how it treats the poor, sick and meek. In a world many view as crazy, seeing the selfless actions of a fourth-grade class re-instills faith that Americans are still the most benevolent people on Earth.

This Christmas season, rather than being overwhelmed by the unimportant things, perhaps we can follow the students’ lead and do what we can to alleviate the misery and sadness right in front of us. By adding our light to the sum of all light, we can truly bring tidings of comfort and joy to so many at this most festive and holy time of year.

Merry Christmas!

Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].