Go Be Nice.


Our moms used to say that, and they were right.

Sunday marked the beginning of National Volunteer Appreciation Week, a time to thank local volunteers for the work they’ve done throughout the year, but also to encourage others to jump in and do something. You’re probably already a volunteer of sorts even if you don’t know it: If you’ve ever donated to a cause you believe in, or given used items to a homeless shelter or gave a dollar to someone who looked like he needed it, that makes you a volunteer. If you ever held a door open for the person behind you, or smiled at someone on the street, said hello to a stranger or gave someone the fourteen cents they needed to pay their grocery tab in the line ahead of you, you’ve got the volunteer spirit.

But there’s so much more that is needed, and so much more we can all do.

If you live in a town of any size, there is probably a soup kitchen or food shelf that needs your help. Obviously the most urgent need is for money and food, but if you can’t donate that, how about donating some time? You could help cook or serve lunches or dinners, or help with cleanup. If you’d rather work anonymously, you could help sort food and stock the shelves.

Most shelters need help collecting and sorting hygiene products like soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving supplies, diapers, etc. I once spent several afternoons matching up new stockings from a crate the size of a railroad car (no kidding) at a local shelter, which I have to admit was a lot of fun for someone with that kind of brain: this goes with this, this goes over here, this one goes with this one… I’ve also filled plastic bags with hygiene products, sorted and bagged diapers, filled backpacks with school supplies, and folded and stuffed envelopes for a local shelter. Most of this was done on lunch hours, since I’m sort of stingy with my time and lazy after work.

Which brings me to something that’s so helpful and yet so simple you don’t even have to get off the couch to do your good deed: Telecare Friends. It may be called something different in your town, but you can call a local shelter or a United Way agency to find out. Ask around: someone will point you in the right direction.

Here’s what you do for Telecare Friends: Sit on the couch (or wherever your phone is) and call an elderly person or shut in and ask how they’re doing. Then you replace the phone in its cradle and go back to your ironing or 43rd rerun of “Two and a Half Men.” It’s important for the person on the other end of the line to know that someone is checking on them to make sure they’re okay, that they’ve eaten dinner, that they’ve taken their medication, and that they are still part of the world for that day. Honestly, if it were any easier, you could do it while you’re sleeping. (I think I once did, but that’s another story for another day.)

Local animal shelters would love to have you show up and volunteer some time. Bring your kids and friends and let them help socialize the kittens, or take some of the dogs for a much-needed walk. Adopt a pet if you can, and help a lot of animals at once: the one you take home, plus the ones who will take his or her place in the safety of the shelter until they find a new home, too.

Your local hospital could probably use hospice volunteers, too. You might work in the hospital, delivering breakfast trays or simply sitting with a dying patient, or help families at home with respite care, allowing them a few hours to get away and take care of family business, go shopping, or even out to a movie to help recharge their flagging spirits.

If you don’t have time or money to spend at a shelter or charitable organization, you can do simpler things closer to home. For one thing, all that junk you have in your closets? Someone could use it. If it’s wearable or usable and still in working order, someone else can use your old coffee pots, sweaters, blankets, socks, sheets, toasters, pots and pans, flatware and hot-doggers. Call a women’s shelter or a homeless shelter and ask if they’ll take them. You won’t be refused.

Or you could make dinner for an elderly person or new parents in your neighborhood. (Better yet, invite them to your home for a meal.) Help a neighbor with gardening, raking, or snow removal. Offer to watch someone’s kids while they run errands, or pick up groceries or medication for a neighbor while you’re running errands. Visit a nursing home and chat with residents. Bring cookies to a busy family with kids. Carry in the mail for someone who has trouble getting to the mailbox. Make time to chat with a neighbor. Sometimes a listening ear can make all the difference.

It’s so easy. Find someone who needs help and help them. Find the need. Fill it.

My friend Rick once said that he doesn’t have to look very far to realize how fortunate he is. I think most of us could say the same thing. (Not about Rick, but you know.)

And while I would love for you to believe that I stay home nights reading Camus, I am nothing if not honest: I don’t. I don’t even know who he was or what he did. The only thing I know for sure is that like Mr Lettman’s, his name is not pronounced the way it’s spelled. But as serendipity would have it, one of the cheap novels I’m reading opened to a page with this lovely and appropriate Camus quote: “I am like them, to be sure. We are in the soup together.”

Go be nice.

4 Responses to “Go Be Nice.”

  1. Cathy says:

    Bravo. If you can’t find a way to “go be nice” in this entry, then you haven’t much imagination. I don’t know Camus either, but I like what Red Green says: “Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together!”

  2. Dan "The Gizmo" says:

    “Anyway, I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.” —J. D. Salinger

  3. Patt says:

    Why, Mr Gizmo, you could be hurt very badly!

  4. Marilyn says:

    Okay, I’m a bit behind in reading your blog. I have now caught up on all the postings and so thoroughly enjoyed each one that I will be logging in each day in eager anticipation. The Spam post is a classic.

    I also just read the Volunteer column in the Duluth newspaper that featured you, which is why I am leaving a reply on your Be Nice post. Nona so looked forward to spending Sundays, and eventually Wednesday evenings with you. I am firmly convinced that you added a couple more years to her life. That was a Telecare match made in heaven. And, I gained a wonderful friend from that match.

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