What matters most

Published 9:52 am Saturday, December 21, 2013

by Randy Forbes

Little feet scamper down the aisles. Squeals of laughter fill the toy section. Ten-year-old Lillian of Chesapeake’s Crestwood Intermediate School holds tightly to the skateboard she’s chosen, her face one big, contagious smile. Gerson of G.W. Carver Intermediate School heads straight to the video games. Nine-year-old Jacoya isn’t happy until she finds a gift for her brother. It’s the ninth annual Kidz Kruz event, sponsored by the James C. Archbell III Foundation, and approximately 800 local children are given the opportunity to spend $20 at the Edinburgh Commons Wal-Mart before meeting Santa and wrapping up this special event with a pizza dinner. The radiant faces are all that Jay and Lisa Archbell, and the volunteers who give of themselves every year to make these children’s holiday special, ask in return.

As I watched the children pick out their toys, saw their eyes light up and big smiles break out on their small faces, I found myself thinking about how little it takes to spread joy. A smile to a stranger. A warm, “Merry Christmas.” A helping hand for the elderly gentleman whose arms are filled with packages. A holiday letter to the service member far away from her family.

For many Americans, though, a joyous Christmas may be a challenge this year. The economy sputters. Budgets are tight. Families struggle to make ends meet, cutting back on how much they do for Christmas. People are frustrated with the state of our nation. But even during tough times, it doesn’t take much to spread joy. With just a little extra effort, you can brighten a stranger’s day, or reconnect with a neighbor. You can make Christmas a little less lonely for the homesick service member serving overseas. With just $20, Jay Archbell helps fill one local child’s holiday with excitement and wonder.

This year, as we celebrate the joy and peace of the season, let’s take a moment to reflect on the needs in our community: those who are hungry or sick, and especially the men and women who sacrifice so much to defend our freedom. One of the best Christmas gifts is the reminder of how rewarding it is to serve others. There are many wonderful organizations you can easily find in your community, where you can help make a difference. Listed here are just a few of those where you can get involved in spreading hope and joy to those around you this season:

* Send a care package. Provide care packages for troops who are far from home this Christmas, and throughout the year: http://www.ourmilitary.mil/ care-packages

* Feed a hungry family. One in six Americans face hunger. Find a local food bank where you can serve, or donate a meal to a hungry family: http://feedingamerica.org/foodbank-results.aspx?state=VA

* Volunteer with the Salvation Army. Volunteers are needed daily at locations across the Fourth District. Ring bells, volunteer as a Christmas “Elf” and help provide a wonderful Christmas experience for thousands of local families: http://salvationarmynorth.org/community/virginia/community-pages/volunteering-18/

* Send troops a holiday thank you message. Even a brief note of gratitude can make a world of difference to a service member serving overseas. Write a letter or tweet a message or photo with the hashtag #HolidayMail, so service members across the country and around the world can see your encouraging holiday message: http://www.redcross.org/support/get-involved/holiday-mail-for-heroes

* Volunteer to Help Veterans. If you want to help care for veterans in your community, use this form to complete a volunteer application and be contacted by a local Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service representative: http://www.volunteer.va.gov/apps/VolunteerNow/

Listening to the infectious laughter of the children filling the aisles of Wal-Mart, I couldn’t help but be reminded that it’s moments like these that matter most. Regardless of how you and your family celebrate the holidays, I hope you will join me in taking time to reflect on the true meaning of giving that lies behind the Christmas season. This year, let’s reach out to the people in our community, giving not just of what we have, but also of ourselves. Let us pause in gratitude for our loved ones, and for those who are far from their loved ones, that this nation might remain free. Because it’s when we put aside differences, pull together, and make an effort to bless those we touch, that we rediscover joy.

U.S. Rep. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is randy@randyforbes.com.