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Giving’s sweeter that comes from the heart

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Oh, I believe there are angels among us, Sent down to us from somewhere up above. They come to you and me in our darkest hours.

— Alabama

There’s an old Mad magazine parody that always comes to mind when I read press releases from individuals or groups looking for publicity to mark their “charitable donations” — and, yes, I know I quote Mad frequently in this space; throughout the 1970s, about the only things I read were Mad, National Lampoon and Archie comics.

The parody covered several panels, and the text went something like this: “I, James Wentworth Moneybags III (the made-up name is mine; I can’t be expected to remember every detail, people), do hereby donate $100,000 of my hard-earned money — money that I could have spent to enhance the lifestyle I’ve grown accustomed to — to this noble and worthy cause ... and I proudly do so anonymously.”

I’m guessing that people who can actually afford to make such charitable donations — and choose to do so — really do make them partly for the attention their action brings. (There is that tax write-off thing I’ve heard about, too, but we’re talking about the better angels here today.) And, God bless them, they deserve the recognition they get.

But after Herald librarian Mary Braswell (one of those better angels, by the way) and I spent a good bit of time last week with Ginny Hayman, Jean Youngblood, Ida Fowler and many other of the ladies who are part of the Ladies Neighborhood Bible Study group that Hayman and one of her friends formed 40 years ago, I think I came away with a little better understanding of true charitable giving.

Motivated solely by their desire to share the gospel that means so much to them with others who might not have the access they do, these wonderful women take their message to nursing homes, personal care centers and retirement facilities each week. There’s no fanfare, no press releases, no calls for additional volunteers or money.

Just women who want to share with a portion of the population whose members often have no one else even visit them, much less spend quality one-on-one time with them.

I watched, thoroughly amazed and my heart deeply touched, as the smiles spread across the faces of nursing home residents as they sang the old spirituals they’d learned as children — “Jesus Loves Me,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” — not caring one whit that they might be singing out of key. This wasn’t “The Voice” or “American Idol” ... it was their opportunity to stand out, to be noticed.

And they reveled in it.

As the seeds of Hayman’s two-woman study group took root and spread throughout this community over the past four decades, she’s not spent a large amount of time patting herself on the back. She — and the others who take part in the Bible study group — are answering what they feel is a calling, an opportunity to put their faith into action.

In those 40 years, there have been exactly two articles in this newspaper that have recognized the Ladies Neighborhood Bible Study group: one written by Lou Whiting in the 1970s and a second last Sunday. And those two articles were not influenced by any press release or media request made by group members.

Not that there aren’t others in the community — and not that any charitable or philanthropic giving, no matter what the motivation, isn’t deserving of praise — but it’s so rare to hear about the works of groups and individuals who truly do what they do not for praise but out of a sense of compassion and concern for their fellow human beings. It certainly is not in our nature to take that which we have worked to earn and freely give it to help others whose needs have been revealed to us.

Or maybe it was human nature at one time, but not in this cynical “I’ve got mine, you get yours” world. Perhaps the constant taking by those who are not truly in need has blinded most of us to the desperation of individuals and families who have abandoned even the tiniest glimmer of hope.

Thank God, for their sake and for all our sakes, there are angels walking among us who offer hope, angels laboring always in anonymity ... but happy to do so.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.