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No gifts, please

Food for Thought

By the time you reach age 75 or 80, you probably have enough fancy guest soaps, golf balls, pretty stationery, fishing lures, or useless what-nots to last for another decade at least. So, you’d really like to have that birthday party your kids and grandkids are planning for you, but the idea of receiving, acknowledging, and making use of so much additional stuff is discouraging, to say the least.
When I told my family that I didn’t expect or want birthday presents, they reluctantly accepted my reasons, but suggested that I might be pleased by any donations to a scholarship fund I had started several years previously. The fund, established with the money remaining in the Picture Presenter treasury after 25 years of bringing examples of famous art into the classrooms at Lakeview Elementary in Solon, had been mostly raised by the children themselves by the sale of Christmas ornaments. When the Picture Presenter program had to be abandoned due to lack of volunteers, we decided that the money should go back to the students in the form of scholarship assistance, so it was donated to Solon’s Dollars for Scholars organization.
They suggested that the money be used to start an endowed scholarship fund for art, and named in memory of my daughter, Jennifer, who had attended the Solon Schools, and who had died unexpectedly less than two years after graduating. Although Jennifer might not have chosen art as the destination for the scholarship, the money had been collected for that purpose and would acknowledge the 25 years I had spent organizing and managing the program. I could hardly turn down that idea. At first, the scholarship seemed to be supported to the extent that it would be totally funded within a few years and an annual scholarship could be awarded for a Solon graduate who was outstanding in art. This didn’t happen, though, and eventually the money was put into the general fund. By now, I had accepted the notion that, even if the scholarship had been retained, and eventually awarded, after so many years there would be few if any people who would even remember Jennifer or the Picture Presenter Program.
Thanks to the kindness and understanding of so many people– my friends, and Jennifer’s friends, who generously donated an impressive total of dollars for Solon’s scholars– and to the Dollars for Scholars organization who understood and agreed to use the donated funds for art scholarships in my daughter’s memory, such a scholarship will be awarded beginning in 2015, I have been told. And I am both proud and grateful for the way this all turned out.
The whole experience has generated some ideas that others might employ when they are in a position to celebrate an important occasion. Especially those of us who have reached an age when birthdays should be celebrated but the gifts are low on the list of priorities. Why not ask your guests to make a donation to Dollars for Scholars or some other worthy cause, rather than present you with something you neither need nor want? Or, you could ask for new children’s toys to be given to one of the organizations that provide Christmas presents for needy children. Toys might be fun.
You could request donations of clothing or money to a local women’s shelter, or winter clothing for the homeless. Your local school could use donations of school supplies for students who can’t afford them, or bulletin board supplies for teachers to keep their classroom bulletin boards attractive and interesting. How about money to help pay for those little holiday observances in school or church—and those other things that teachers usually end up paying for themselves.
Your town library could make use of donations for new book purchases, computer programs, movies, special events– so many things that libraries strive to offer to the public and that are nearly always on a waiting list of luxuries that must wait their turn until the necessities are taken care of. If your town has a summer recreation program for children, you could request money to pay for craft supplies, sports equipment, or to pay the salaries of the people who teach the classes and keep the kids safe, occupied and learning new things during those otherwise idle summer hours. Having taught a crafts class in just such a summer recreation program, I know first-hand that the pay is minimal and the budget for supplies is dismal.
There are so many possibilities for doing something helpful and rewarding for your community, things that a relatively small amount of money could provide a real and much appreciated boost toward, that would be so much more gratifying than yet another doodad or silly gizmo. Think about it.