Today’s post is a special one for me. A few months ago (ok basically right around presidential election time), I was tired of seeing the hate and negativity that was being spewed all over social media. I decided it was time to put some positivity back out into the universe and the holiday season is always the perfect time to do so. My first thought was to do a “12 Days of Giving” post, but I’ll be the first to admit that I was in too much of a time crunch to come up with 12 days’ worth of activities. Instead, my friend, April, suggested that we take one day and go out and about performing Random Acts of Kindness (RAKS). I liked the idea a lot and definitely wanted to make it into a blog post, but was a bit worried about people seeing the post as me just bragging about what a great human I am because I did a few charitable acts. I wondered if other people might want to get involved so that it wouldn’t just be me out there. Like a lot of my ideas, I started second guessing myself before I even crafted the first line of my e-mail to friends and family. Would anyone want to join me? Would everyone think I was just trying to brag about what a great and giving person I am? Would people see it as political / religious and be offended? I quieted my noisy mind long enough to hit ‘send’ on my e-mail and was almost instantly surprised by the positive response.
So today, I am sharing a few words and images surrounding our day of RAKS. We joked that the more appropriate term would be PAKS (Planned Acts of Kindness) because we did plan quite a few things, but I wanted to make sure I hit a few of my favorite charities. I share this not for a pat on the back because honestly we did nothing out of the ordinary. I share it mainly because I want to show everyone that kindness is a choice – and most of the time it’s an easy choice. We can be angry about the result of a presidential election or sad about the state of certain things in the world. However, it’s important to remember that ultimately change starts with each of us. With you and with me. The president of the United States is not going to determine what kind of person I will be or what kind of world I will work toward creating. I see all of you angry about certain causes on Facebook, so take that anger and go VOLUNTEER for those causes. If we can have real talk for a minute – walk away from the computer / cell phone, get off your ass and do something! Nothing infuriates me more than seeing all these people pounding away at their keyboards, but then turning on the TV or going out to the bar instead of getting up and taking action. I encourage you to make a resolution to get out and become involved in the community in 2017. SO MANY organizations desperately need your help. Don’t be nervous or intimidated. Don’t second guess yourself or make excuses that you don’t have the time. Pick an organization, make a phone call and get involved. I promise you it will change you for the better.
For anyone that knows me or has followed the blog at all, you know I am completely animal (especially dog) obsessed, so our first stop had to be the Western PA Humane Society. The Western PA Humane Society and The Animal Rescue League recently merged to form one of the largest animal welfare organizations in Pennsylvania. The WPHS is an open door shelter which means no animal in need is ever turned away. It also means that they need a lot of support from the community to keep the doors open and to be able to offer all of their services. We dropped off some food and treats and spent some time visiting with the pups.
How to Get Involved: Volunteer. Don’t worry if you are like me and are worried about being overly emotional working directly with the animals, there are always plenty of opportunities to volunteer at various fundraising events throughout the year (The Pittsburgh Marathon is a huge one). Have room in your home? Consider fostering. Do you love planning and throwing parties? Why not consider planning a fundraising event and donate the profits.
Our second stop was at Light of Life Rescue Mission on the North Side. Established in 1952, Light of Life provides a safe refuge to the Pittsburgh homeless community. Some interesting stats from their website: Last year, Light of Life provided over 190,000 meals to those in need, 8,000 nights of shelter for homeless men (155 people sheltered nightly), held 800 chapel services for those in need and distributed 476 Thanksgiving dinner baskets to families on the North Side. Apart from the Men’s Residential program, Light of Life also has a Women and Children’s Program.
How to Get Involved: There are so many ways to get involved at Light of Life. One of the simplest is to volunteer in the kitchen and provide a meal to those in need. I volunteered one Saturday for breakfast and I can’t even begin to explain the positivity that shines out of those directly involved at Light of Life. You could also consider helping with childcare or plan a family night for the Women and Children’s Program. If you visit the website, there is also a section devoted to “special projects” which includes everything from actually preparing a meal to creating a family fun night basket. Awhile back, I did the “Welcome Home Baby Kit” and packed a diaper bag full of goodies for a new mom in need. Light of Life lists out every item that is needed, so they make it very simple to shop for the kits and put them together.
Our next stop was at the Engine 37 Fire Station to drop off some cookies and thank the firefighters for their service. The guys we met were so welcoming and even let us climb into the truck. They said they had a group of Boy Scouts earlier in the week that weren’t as interested as we were. LOL
Next, we headed down to the Holiday Market in Market Square. The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank was collecting donations, so we made a monetary donation and dropped some canned goods at Santa’s Village. We wanted to get a picture with Santa, but the line was a bit too long, so we left that for the kiddos. If you haven’t been to the Holiday Market, it’s a really fun place during the holidays. There’s a holiday shopping village featuring unique gifts, live entertainment and the kids can visit Santa in his downtown home.
Once we were in Market Square, we did attempt to do a few random acts. We took some photos for people at the ice skating rink and April paid for someone’s McDonald’s order. She also bought a coffee and tried to chase down a woman to give it to her, but I’m pretty sure the woman was a tad terrified. Lesson learned. Don’t chase down a stranger while shoving your coffee in her face asking her to take it. Hahaha.
Our last stop was to the Reformed Presbyterian Home in the North Side. The home is a charitable, nonprofit organization that provides care and a supportive living environment for older adults. We walked around the home wishing the residents a Merry Christmas and passed out Christmas cards and candy canes. I think many of them were most excited about our ugly Christmas sweaters and reindeer antlers. It was amazing to see the happiness that came to their faces with such a simple gesture as a Christmas card.
Finally, when I got home, I put together two other small projects. The first I saw somewhere online (probably Pinterest). I bought some water and snacks and put them out on my porch for the mailman, UPS and FedEx workers. Trust me, they stop at my house a lot, so it’s the least I could do!
Last but not least, I put together some simple care packages for the homeless. I bought some heavy socks, hats and a few treats to put into bags. I typically add a few dollars and it’s also not a bad idea to add a few travel size toiletry items. I like to keep these in my car, so I have them on hand if I come across anyone in need.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I had a wonderful response to my request for others to join the mission of giving back. Some of my lovely blogger friends created their own special projects for a day of giving and I hope you will check out all their posts!
Ready to put the resolution into motion, but not sure where to start? Below are some of the organizations mentioned in this post and some other favorites in the Pittsburgh area:
Western PA Humane Society / Animal Rescue League - animal welfare organization
Light of Life Rescue Mission - shelter and support services for the city's homeless
Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank - mission to feed people in need and work toward ending hunger
The Reformed Presbyterian Home - provides care and a supportive living environment for older adults
Education Partnership - partners with local schools to put basic school supplies in the hands of children that need them.
CHS Food Pantry - food pantry, provides health programs and housing assistance programs
Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh - emergency shelter, children's program, legal and medical advocacy and education for women experiencing domestic violence and their children.
Dress for Success Pittsburgh - empowering women by providing work appropriate attire, assisting with the job search and providing on-going education regarding growing professionally once a job is obtained.