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Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004 11:30 pm

Privilege to give

"It's just cool to give," says Crystal, who lost her job in September

They say it's better to give than to receive. I went to last week's Christmas food-and-gift giveaway at the Salvation Army to find out why -- and what I discovered is that even for those with the least ability to help, the desire to give is never absent.

Lubenia went to the giveaway to collect food and toys for her six children who range in age from 3 to 18. A good reason to feel happy, isn't it? But her eyes sparkle with tears when I ask whether she prefers to give or to get.

"I am always ready to help, whatever. As soon as someone asks," she says. "I can't describe why -- it is just nicer to help.'' Lubenia can't give people money, but there are other ways to be of service to others.

Crystal lost her job in September and for the first time turned to the Salvation Army for presents for her three children: "You know, I don't feel wrong about it -- even now I give people money if they come up to me in the street and ask, or knock at my door. All my family is like that. Why? I don't know; it's just cool to give."

Now it's Crystal's turn to rely on the kindness of others. It is like the law of conservation of energy in physics -- the energy doesn't disappear from universe; it simply pops up in a different place, I think.

Marcela works at a local college, but it is not easy to pay all the bills with four kids. This was Marcela's first Christmas for Santa to collect presents at the Salvation Army.

"Without this program, my children would have gotten very little this Christmas. It is very helpful in my situation today," she says. But Marcela also finds ways to give. She's donated food to a driver at the college and participated in programs to help members of the military.

Marcela gets her basket of presents from a young volunteer. This is the third year 12-year-old Brooke has helped out at the Salvation Army. Brooke has trouble describing the difference in how it feels to give and to receive. For her, giving is a privilege, and she likes it very much: "I feel good because I help other people."

About 385 families receive baskets of food, toys, and clothing at the Salvation Army Corps, 530 N. Sixth St., on the day before Christmas Eve. The organization funds many of its charitable programs through its annual Tree of Lights campaign. This year's goal was $350,000; on Christmas Eve, the Salvation Army reached contributions of $353,000, says spokesman Dave MacDonna. This year's campaign ends Jan. 1.

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