I love giving gifts any time of year, but during the holidays I feel like giving also brings a special opportunity to express value and thoughtfulness. I should qualify this by saying I don’t often give monetary gifts, what with tuition and living costs leeching what little fiscal flexibility working a job allows. But gifts do not have to be expensive to be meaningful, and in fact gifts are so much more meaningful when personal effort and sacrifice goes into creating the gift than when one receives cold hard cash (as nice as it is to receive cold hard cash).
If you’re lucky this holiday season, I might even bake bread for you. Baking is super easy, and whether you make cookies, brownies or bread, everyone is always happy to receive them (warm, if possible. Yum!).
I’ve had to learn how to bake and cook for myself this year, since I don’t have a meal plan. I’ve learned and been humbled by a lot, but I am saving money. Some meals end up being just plain white rice, but even that’s warm and delicious if you make it the way you like it. When I tell that to my parents, they get a little worried, but then they’re more inclined to stop by the grocery store with me before I come back to Gustavus.
I was relating some of my new cooking experience to my grandparents over Thanksgiving while asking for some new recipes, and they had a different response than I would have expected. My grandmother’s ears seemed to perk up at the mention of “just rice for dinner,” and she began to tell a story.
When my mother was a kid, my grandparents used to have just rice for dinner once a month. Back then, just as today, poverty reduces most meals to “just rice” in this world, and they would try to educate their children about poverty outside the United States through a rice dinner.
Now, I eat just rice to save myself a few dollars every now and then, and they were saving money too, but they saved the money so that they could give it to local food shelters. In a family of six, if they had one rice dinner a month, they could save up quite a bit of money to send off over a period of time.
The kids grew up, and the tradition sort of died down. However, in the last few years, my grandmother has started it up again, but instead of seeing it as a way to educate their kids about poverty, now she sees it as an amazingly simple way to raise money for local food shelves. Apparently, the idea initially spread around our church in Minneapolis, and our little congregation ended up sending about $10,000 to local food shelters. From there, the idea has been taken to churches, synagogues, college campuses and other organizations throughout North America, and it is now beginning to crop up in Europe as well. If you’re interested in the idea, go to www.RiceDinner.org, and there is a Youtube video you can find as well.
As a college student, I don’t dream about giving money to charitable organizations; my time and labor, but probably not my money. Why I think this idea is so novel and brilliant is that even I can make a way to give money, even if I don’t send off hundreds of dollars. Even if I set aside just $10 a month, that ends up being $120 by the end of the year, and that’s a sizeable gift I really feel good about giving every holiday season.
Now, am I saying we all should choke down rice for one meal to feel good about ourselves later? If you want to think so, I guess I cannot stop you, but especially during periods of economic recession food shelves get hit very hard in the winter, and although you may want to feel good about giving something, there are people in this community that need to eat.
The Rice Dinner Project is totally non-profit, meaning that you don’t have to send my grandmother your money so she can divvy it out to food shelves and take a cut. You pick the food shelves, and 100 percent of the money goes to the organization you choose. Because of this, the Rice Dinner Project doesn’t know how much money is being raised or how many people are involved. We just know there are A LOT, and the number is growing.
So if you’re looking for some easy charitable giving this holiday season that you can really feel good about, give the Rice Dinner Project a try. And if you hate rice, it’s OK: you don’t actually have to eat it to send in money to a food shelf!