Friday, July 17, 2015

The donut lady

I've shared this story many times over the years, but a friend asked me to write it down, so I thought I would share it here too. To all the donut ladies out there...thanks.

When I worked at Sheltering Arms, a shelter for children under 18 that were temporarily placed in CPS care, I became a witness to many types of service.  As an organization that provided shelter for children, we were often served by the good-meaning people of the community- and most often at Christmastime where people would come in droves to help these "less fortunate children." Unfortunately, the rest of the year, we were just a building tucked into a neighborhood that was passed on a regular basis. In all my time working at the shelter, there were two individuals that stuck out to me in a way that changed my perspective on service forever: the doctor and the donut lady.
As a supervisor, one of my main responsibilities was to protect the identity of the children to any visitors.  The home was built behind a fence that required entry from someone within to let a guest inside the gate. On one particularly normal day the buzzer went off and the caller said he was there to donate clothes for the children. I went to greet him with my clipboard and tax exemption sheet in hand.  It was my job to sort the clothing and determine a value. The man delivering the clothes was a little put-off by the formality of the form and the process I was taking. Part of the process was to fill out what the donations were and to assess their value. Once I had filled out the vital information, this man- whom I later learned was a doctor in our community- took the form and filled in the value amount. According to this man, the bag of unwanted, used clothing that he had stuffed into a black garbage bag had a value of $500. He signed the form and left quickly.  When I returned the sheet I was in shock. After speaking to a more seasoned employee she explained that sometimes people filled out that form solely for the tax refund benefits. The donators at Christmastime were good people, trying to do something to feel good about their efforts during a season when giving is emphasized. The doctor? His motivation? Although I can't say for certain, had nothing to do with the children who's lives had been turned upside down. It wasn't really about them.
There is one other person that I vividly remember, although I only spoke to her once. I don't know her name, although I wish I did.  At the shelter she was affectionately called "the donut lady".  Each week, around the same time she would show up to the gate with heavy bags, filled with a variety of donuts.  Not just the plain glazed-which happen to be my favorite- there would be donuts of every color- sprinkled, with chocolate, fillings, and even the more expensive sausage & cheese kolaches. These were the real deal, stuff-in-your-mouth deliciousness in fried/baked/frosted form. It was loved and quickly devoured by the excited expectant children waiting for their sweet treat. The donut lady didn't ever stay to receive praise, she just came.  Every week.  Never asked to return.  We didn't have to, she always did. The one time I spoke to our donut lady was because she was going out of town and she wanted to make sure the children would know not to expect her. She never asked for a tax form either but I imagine a weekly trip to the donut store with dozens of goods can add up.
It has been many years since I worked at the shelter.  It was one of the most challenging jobs and as a recent college graduate, it was often overwhelming.  Jolts of the real world shoved into a Monday-Friday work day. I learned a lot from my time there, but one of the most valuable lessons I learned is that when it comes to helping others- there are two types of approaches.  There are those who serve because it serves them and their purpose.- whether that be a bigger tax deduction or a feel-good-about-ourselves moment at Christmastime. And there are also "donut ladies" who serve in small ways, without being asked, without being thanked, and without stopping to receive their reward.  In our world, filled with the giveme givemes- wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a few more donut ladies? Let's do a little better, you and me, dig a little deeper and find a way to bring a little more love into the world.  Consistent, altruistic service- with or without the frosting, its up to you.

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