Anna Pold: The spirit of giving


Published: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 27, 2013 at 12:13 p.m.

We never expect to find anything permanent in temporary circumstances. Maybe it's a certain job, a certain city, or a certain relationship, but we've all been there, telling ourselves we're just here for now, that there is something bigger and better ahead of us. But sometimes, if we're lucky enough, those mundane circumstances present us with unexpected gifts, gifts that change us and alter the way we see the world. This holiday season, I received just that.

My family is from California, where I grew up in humble circumstances. Most of my childhood was spent in hand me down clothes, playing with secondhand toys, in a house full of thrift shop furniture. My parents worked tirelessly to improve our lives, but were hit hard during this recession, as many others have been.

Despite our financial struggles, my parents always made the education of their children a priority. And when it came time for me to go off to college, they sacrificed all that they could to send me to my dream school, the University of Florida. Because of how I was raised, I have no interest in designer clothes or expensive shoes, no desire to live a lavish life. However, the one thing I did spend money on was my scooter, a necessity to get myself around town while the car my siblings and I shared stayed home.

My scooter, Felix, really isn't much to look at; his seat is duct taped together and his license plate is secured by hair ties. On a good day, going downhill, with the wind at our back, we make it to thirty miles per hour. He is nothing fancy, but when it comes to getting me where I need to go on a day-to-day basis, he is my strong and steady. But on a recent Saturday night, following UF's fall commencement, that all abruptly changed. I left my shift at Ballyhoo to find that Felix had been stolen.

Without him, I wouldn't be able to get to work, to volunteering, or to class. I had been able to pay for school out of my own pocket the last two semesters, but had to ask my mom to help me pay for classes this upcoming spring. Just a few days earlier, I had earned enough to make rent and buy my roommates Christmas presents. I was staying in town to work because I didn't have the money to fly home for the holidays, for the first time in five years. Felix was a key part of my life that I simply couldn't afford to replace.

Our employee Christmas party was the following night, and walking in, I was about as far from being in the holiday spirit as you could imagine. But that night, I was shown the true meaning of Christmas. Ballyhoo's owner, Bill Reichardt, informed me that there was a hat going around for me.

I didn't understand what he meant by that. A hat? What kind of hat? What was I supposed to do with it? I thought maybe there was a Santa hat for me to wear, something silly to put me in a more festive mood. Turns out, everyone there, friends, co-workers and few people that I hadn't even met until that night, had all come together to raise money for me to buy a new scooter.

I was absolutely floored. I hate asking for favors, preferring to take care of whatever I can by own devices. Yet there I was, surrounded by dozens of people who had come together to help me out, dozens of people who a year ago had just been strangers. Everyone at Ballyhoo had chosen to give a little out of their own pockets, out of their own Christmas funds, to make my holidays just a little brighter. If that doesn't make all of us family, then I don't know what does.

And that's why I love Christmas so much. There is a certain magic about the holiday season, something that makes people a little less selfish. Christmas is not about buying as many presents as you can, or decorating the tallest tree, or the fancy drinks in red cups sold by a certain coffee shop, although all those things are grand. Christmas truly is about the spirit of giving, about family. Christmas is about a group of average, ordinary people, who banded together to really do something extraordinary.

I know that no matter how many times I express my gratitude, it will never be enough to do justice to the impact their efforts had on me. So this is my way of saying thank you, again, because I couldn't possibly say it enough. I need to thank the universe, to thank God, to thank whatever force it is working out there, that put such incredible people in my corner.

I want to live the rest of my life paying this forward, to somehow leave a positive impact everywhere I go, even in the smallest way. And we all can: write thank-you notes, ask how someone is doing and really listen to their response. Leave flowers on your neighbor’s doorstep, smile at strangers as they pass by. Drop your change in the homeless man's cup, or better yet, sit down with him and buy him lunch, hear his story.

People need to hear stories like this, in a world today that is too often flipped upside down by cruelty and turmoil. People need to know that there are good people out there, and they aren't some far-off mythical creatures, living in a faraway land. They are right here in Gainesville, just down the street.

Anna Pold lives in Gainesville.

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