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A culture of giving

At the agency Christmas party, many employees were delighted to find themselves winners in the gift drawing – but it was at the end of the holiday gathering when the true giving began.>

"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give." ― Winston S. Churchill

Co-workers teamed up to stuff 40 backpacks and bags with an assortment of "street endurance" items: gloves, thermal socks, hand and feet warmers, hand sanitizers, water and various snack food items. Those survival packs were loaded into the backseats of cars, and more than 25 employees took to the streets to distribute them at random to homeless persons they encountered on their way home or over the next few days.

"I really felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to participate," she said. "And when I saw the faces of the recipients when I handed them their bag, I felt like a guardian angel. They were so full of joy and thanksgiving."

Helen Allen, who as Interim Director of Human Resources is responsible for coordinating various outreach ministries, hopes to see employees continue the Hope in a Bag project year round.

"There are staff who have made a commitment to keep a bag or two in their car trunk and keep handing out bags," she said. "Maybe it will become a tradition here at UMCom."

Allen had high praise for the generosity of her co-workers.

"Our folks are no strangers to giving," she said. "There are some mighty big hearts here. Whenever they are asked, they respond whether it's with money, ideas, items or prayers."

The backpack project was just one of the ways UMCom staff practiced what the Rethink Church campaign preached-to experience "A Different Kind of Christmas." Departmental teams collected enough food to feed seven families, as well as warm gloves and scarves and new books for a local children's reading program.

The Christmas activities were just the latest in a long line outreach projects in a workplace where a culture of giving exists. Giving has run the gamut from uniting with others to build houses for Habitat for Humanity to purchasing rain ponchos for local students to organizing garage sales for United Way to participating in fundraising walks for worthy causes to impromptu giving for Imagine No Malaria.

It's commonplace to see a collection box in the front lobby where employees donate items like deployment care kits for soldiers on their way to Afghanistan, toiletries and clothing for women's shelters, or notebooks, crayons and pencils for kids' backpacks.

They not only give to their neighbors, in the Music City. They give to one another, contributing generously when co-workers experience the loss of a loved one or a personal crisis or tragedy. Many contribute regularly from their paychecks to the employee crisis fund.

The Rev. Larry Hollon, Chief Executive Officer of United Methodist Communications, says giving is part of the "fabric" of the agency.

"I've experienced it myself," he said. "These are the most generous and caring group of people I have ever worked with. It doesn't take a holiday like Christmas to bring out their best. They live their faith and commitment to make a difference 365 days a year."