Changing the World: One Random Act at a Time

It was 7:42 a.m. I squeezed my eyes. A lump came up in my throat. Whew. I’d made it on time. It was the happiest hour I’d spent in a long time. But that feel-good moment is not why I did it.

Whether we’ve just spent a wallet full of cash or racked up Christmas shopping bills on the plastic, it always feels good to toss a token dime or dollar in the kettle, doesn’t it?

I had just dropped off two large, kitchen-sized garbage bags of used clothing at the Salvation Army from our church’s clothes closet ministry for a family who was in desperate need. I also included a smaller bag of brand new underwear and socks for the children, which I had hurried to Wal-Mart at 6:45 a.m. to buy.

December, of course, is when you hear the bells ringing everywhere for the Salvation Army and other drives—“Toys for Tots,” “Stuff the Bus,” and so on. Whether we’ve just spent a wallet full of cash or racked up Christmas shopping bills on the plastic, it always feels good to toss a token dime or dollar in the kettle to feel a little better about indulging our own loved ones. Doesn’t it?

This particular feel-good moment started with some posters our clothes closet spread around town, reminding folks that we have free clothing available every Wednesday night (and the first Saturday morning of the month). I said I’d take a poster to the Salvation Army shelter and to the public health department. On an unseasonably frigid November day, the receptionists looked particularly happy to be able to share our posters.

I was also helping to staff our church closet that night. Right after we opened at 6:30 p.m., I took a call on the church phone. More often than not, at 6:30 on a Wednesday night, it is clothes closet business. A young mother, whom I’ll call Rebecca, had seen our poster but didn’t have a way to get to the closet. They would have to vacate the shelter at 8:00 the next morning (because that’s how shelters roll). Did we have any way to get them some clothes? They had no car, and the buses stopped running at 6:30 p.m. She had two sons, size toddler 2 and 4, and a daughter, size 8, plus herself and her husband. The little boys had coats but the parents needed jackets and the daughter did too. Oh, and did we have any clean underwear and socks for the little boys? I promised her I would bring her what we could find, sometime between 7:15 and 7:45 the next morning.

We waited for the people who had come to the closet to finish making their selections before we tried to glean clothes for this family. I found myself anxiously watching what was going out the door: oh, that would be a great outfit for the little girl, that coat would have fit the mother. It made me understand in a new way why some of our clients have sometimes pushed and shoved each other to be first in line for the best dibs.

When all our clients were gone for the evening, three of us split up the list from Rebecca and searched the racks. How difficult to choose clothes for someone we’d never met. I realized in a new way how, as one writer blogged recently, people tend to “give their crap to the poor.” We shared our finds with each other, made some calculations and guesses, and ended up with between two to three outfits per person, plus a few coats. But no underwear was available.

On the way home I pondered what to do. No underwear for the children. Well, we’d done what we could. They would just have to understand there was none available through our closet.

In the morning, about 6:45, I suddenly brainstormed that if I hurried and had any luck, I could just make it to Wal-Mart, pick out some new underwear, and arrive before they needed to leave the shelter, maybe even in time to dress any late-rising children. The underwear came to $20. Luck was with me and I arrived at the shelter at 7:42.

I share this not to brag in any way, but to explore why we need to do these things, and not just to have a feel-good moment.

We give because we all need a break, especially young moms or families down on their luck. We’ve all made mistakes, gotten ourselves into a jam. I have no idea why or what prompted their emergency (likely an eviction), but the family was in desperate need of clothes without any transportation.

We give because it is the right thing to do. We tap into the God-streak in us (created in the image of God) when we are inspired to give—meaningfully—in a variety of ways: time, gifts, sweat.

We give because doing the little random acts of kindness can be a way to share a ray of hope.

A family friend just started a fair trade women’s clothing store in our city with a similar philosophy of how to change the world, one small step at a time. She named the store Green Hummingbird. The name comes from a legend as told by the Noble Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. “One day a forest caught fire, and the animals stood by helplessly, watching in horror as their homes burned to ground. But a little hummingbird started flying to a nearby stream, scooping some drops of water into her beak, flying back to the fire, and squirting out the drops in an effort to put out the flames. She did this over and over again, until the other animals noticed what she was doing and chided her for it. ‘What are you doing?’ they asked. ‘You are not doing any good, you are just a tiny hummingbird!’ The hummingbird answered ‘I am doing the best that I can.’” (From the store’s website, www.

We may not be able to stop a forest fire, or change much in the way of sweatshop labor conditions, or clothe all of the homeless families in our countries, but God does not ask us to save the world. Just do the best you can.

For a free leaflet “You Can Make the World a Better Place,” write to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or.

Posted 12/11/2014 7:00:00 AM

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