Too easy to ignore the need

Even tiny dents can mean the world at Christmas

By Mike Parks

We’re nearing the end of what a younger and stupider me used to call the “Guilt Season.” But while you shake your head at that, let me explain.

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, every nonprofit organization, be it local or national, asks for your help to the point of overload. Thousands desperately need donations of toys, money and time, and every TV station and newspaper reminds you of it daily or, in our case, weekly. It’s enough to make anybody ask, “What difference can I make when the need is so vast?”

It’s that kind of thinking that convinces you to not even try and makes you feel ashamed to make eye contact with the Salvation Army bell ringer outside Walmart. You justify it by thinking, “My little contribution can’t matter on the grand scale of things.”

Let me tell you about an experience last week that sharply reminded me that each of our little contributions can mean the world to someone else.

On Dec. 17, I was invited, along with Jennifer Moxley and Heather Waliga from News 14 Carolina, to help hand out stuffed animals to children at Levine Children’s Hospital near Uptown. I jumped at the chance to go because, first and foremost, it was a good Christmas-issue news story I could cover. No more, no less. I came through the door in full-on reporter mode, camera in hand and ready to get the story and move on to the next article.

But then, as we gathered outside the hallway where we would soon be delivering little stuffed puppies, Samantha came walking around the corner.

She could have been any other cute little blonde 5-year-old in the world if not for the pink, almost decorative bandaging around her left wrist setting her apart. From it dangled an IV hook-up, thrown into even sharper relief when set against the black and white puppy she soon held tightly in her arm.

“Sure, you can come in the playroom!” she said upon finding out we had more puppies for her friends.

Samantha quickly named her new puppy Sally, and it joined another stuffed puppy, also named Sally, that she had with her back in the playroom. Samantha talked with Heather and Jennifer about her stuffed animals and her real dog back home – a Doberman named Alexander the Mediocre because he’s not quite earned the title of “Great.”

“I think he’s gonna be jealous,” Samantha said.

But I was more focused on the look on Samantha’s mom’s face as she hung back and watched her sick daughter play and laugh with her new friends.

“This place is great. She doesn’t want to go home ever,” Vicki Anderson, Samantha’s mom, said to me while her daughter yelled out, “I love these two dogs!” I never found out why Samantha was in the hospital, but I learned later that she spent 10 days in the hospital in November and Friday was the fourth day this go around.

After leaving Samantha, we met 6-year-old Alexis down the hall, who also took a puppy for her 3-year-old brother. Then we met 5-year-old Nadia, whose new puppy quickly attacked her Hello Kitty stuffed animal, as Nadia helped the two wage war across her hospital bed.

With each puppy delivery, the child’s reaction was special, but I always found myself watching their parents. A mixed look of gratitude, happiness and relief hit each of parent’s face as he or she watched their child get their own little stuffed animal and hold it tightly. They didn’t really talk, but their faces said it all: “Look how happy my kid is.”

It was as if, at least for a few seconds, they weren’t standing in a hospital room with the tubes and machines and nurses and the grief and heartache that comes with it. I know I didn’t cause that momentary transformation, but I’d like to think I helped a little. And that’s the key.

I’ve always heard the phrase “do your part to help others,” but the fact is, there’s no way to measure exactly what your part is. Only you can know for sure when you feel you’ve done enough. Do I feel I’ve done my part? No. In fact, hell no, I’m not even close.

Do I feel guilty about that during the great Guilt Season? Yes, I do. But I should feel guilty.
Sure, there’s a seemingly insurmountable amount of need out there. I can’t even make a dent in it. But I’ve seen the importance firsthand of just doing something. Anything. Samantha’s smile showed me that.

When you drop cash in the Salvation Army pot or donate clothes to a homeless shelter or food in a canned goods drive, you don’t get to see the recipient’s face. You don’t really see the impact. But I promise you it’s there. There are thousands of people in Charlotte alone that need to smile just like Samantha.

I don’t like being preachy or telling people what they should or shouldn’t do, but look at it like this: If I do one small thing and you do one small thing, and the 30,000 other people who read this paper do one small thing, that’s thousands of good deeds just here in our community.

And that does carry weight, a weight I can’t put into words. But I think you know what I mean.

Thank you very much, Levine Children’s Hospital, for letting me meet the people you serve. And thank you very much, Community Blood Center of the Carolinas, which provided the stuffed puppies, for inviting me to tag along. It proved to be more than just another news story.

Nadia has to separate her new puppy from her Hello Kitty stuffed animal. The two quickly started fighting across her bed after first meeting, but are now best friends.

Alexis clutches her new puppy and one for her brother back home.

Samantha does a little dance after getting her puppy, then invited everyone back to the playroom to party.

South Charlotte Weekly editor Mike Parks, far right, seen here with the team who handed out stuffed animals Friday, Dec. 20, at the Levine Children’s Hospital.

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