Every Christmas, the best gifts come from the heart

Ollie Banks’ father Ron has become the giving back ‘champion’ for Solo Expenses, writing our series of blogs on how we should all care for people who share the planet with us. This month he has a powerful message. “Helping someone else this Christmas comes cheap. It starts for as little as £1, but the glow you’ll get from giving such tiny gift to help someone you’ve never met is far greater than that from being given an obscenely expensive present.”

The meal and the company had been wonderful, but as I left the restaurant in the heart of London I didn’t feel that way. I felt guilty because I’d turned my back on someone who needed help.

I hadn’t stepped over a mugging victim or someone having a heart attack, you understand, but by ignoring the message on a little yellow card I’d been handed with the bill, I’d turned my back on someone I’ll never meet who is almost certainly going to have a rotten Christmas.

And what’s more, the card had included a plea from Stephen Fry! How could I have ignored that? The card had been produced by the charity Streetsmart, which has collected, with the help of restaurant diners and hotel guests, almost £7.5m to support the homeless since it was launched in 1998. And in spite of that, all they had asked me for was £1.*

Stephen Fry’s plea
Fry’s plea for my pound was a simple one. He wrote: “Good food, good wine and good company enrich our lives beyond measure. Most of us don’t say Grace these days because we don’t know whom to thank for the inestimable pleasures of the table. Streetsmart lets us do a graceful thing. A simple thing. A kind thing.”

Ways to give back

Being homeless is hard. Its price is a lack of comfort, bone-chilling cold and damp, nowhere to get a shower, to sleep safely, or to relax and watch TV.

There’s no use pointing the finger and saying: ‘It’s their fault they have nowhere to go’, because more than likely it isn’t. There are a whole host of reasons why people have to endure life on the streets, not only in this country but also abroad. In the latter case poverty, illness and death are often the spectres at the feast; children often the victims.

Helping children
That’s why Solo Expenses supports the Footprints Orphanage in Kenya, helping it to help young people build worthwhile lives. There’s a way you could help. Give them some money instead of sending Christmas cards. Use social media to tell your friends and family that’s why you won’t be sending them a Christmas card. More than understanding, they may enjoy the thought that, however tangentially, they’ve supported a charity. Perhaps they’ll even take your lead and do the same.

And that’s the point. Helping someone else isn’t hard. We shouldn’t judge them, but be grateful we’re not in their situation. We should step into the here and now with them and think of a way to help. And then do it.

Christmas GivingMy plea to you
So my plea to you this Christmas is this: Don’t leave it to someone else. Do something. Anything. Don’t think it’s too small a gesture to make a difference, because it isn’t. What seems like nothing to you is a big deal to someone with nothing. Help one of the charities Solo Expenses supports, or find a homeless shelter near you. Money’s always good, but warm clothing is helpful too.

No present like the time
And if you really have nothing to give, then give some time. Help your local shelter to extend their service provision.  After all, Christmas is a time of goodwill to all, no matter if they have a roof over the head or not, and you’ll hardly miss a pound or two…

*I sent a cheque for much more than that as soon as I got home.

Stephen Fry picture: Streetsmart