Monday, January 13, 2014

Crafts of Kindness: A New Undertaking

I had to make a trip to the post office on December 30th to mail a package that I had (predictably) pushed to the side during the holiday scramble. When I walked into the building, there were three employees behind the counter and one customer in line. By the time I selected an appropriate envelope and wrote the recipient's address on it, there was one employee behind the counter and about half of the city in line. So I took my place at the end and waited. And waited. And fidgeted. And checked my phone. And grew increasingly impatient. As I neared the front of the line, a young woman rushed into the post office, skidding to a halt when she saw the line. Everyone, myself included, watched her. She stared dismally at the queue, studied the two slim envelopes in her hand, then reluctantly took her place.

The customer ahead of the anxious woman was one of those genial people who have that rare ability to strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. She had been maintaining friendly chatter with those around her, and immediately engaged the young woman. As they spoke, the young woman grew increasingly nervous about the long wait--she clearly had somewhere to be. The friendly stranger held out her hand and said, "I'll mail your letters." There were plenty of witnesses in the post office--little chance that she had some sinister intention for the mail. The rushed customer protested at first, then acquiesced but offered some cash for the postage, but the kind woman waved it away. She said, "Things are tough. We all need to take care of one another."

Her words struck me. Of all of the people in the post office, why was she the only one who offered to help that woman? Why hadn't I? It was such a simple gesture, but I'm sure that, in that moment, it meant the world to the recipient. A few days earlier, I had read this blog post from Aunt Peaches. It really made me think about how much I overvalue my own kind acts, and often overlook the kindnesses I receive. The blog from Aunt Peaches and the incident in the post office brought to mind a project I had been working on earlier in the year.

Over the summer, I had fallen into a major funk--I slipped into a cycle of being consumed with my own problems, then hating myself for being so self-absorbed. It's easy at times like these for me to lose a sense of connection. When I was ready to re-engage with the world, it occurred to me that crafting might serve as both an outlet for me and a way to help others.

So, after that lengthy and rather personal background, here's my plan: every two weeks I will post about a non-profit or charitable organization that seeks donations of handcrafted items. I plan to complete a project for each group, and hopefully recruit a few friends to do the same. I will add here that there is a robust debate in crafting circles about the utility of charity crafting. Some bloggers argue strongly against the practice, feeling that it results in well-meaning, but ultimately useless items being given to those in need rather than the thing they need most: money. In some instances, I see the logic of this argument. In the face of a natural disaster that destroys homes and belongings, sometimes leaving people seriously injured or dead, perhaps making a monetary donation to a relief organization is the best thing you can do to help. BUT, when an organization specifically solicits homemade items, I assume that the organization is in the best position to judge what it needs, not me. If handmade beads or knitted hats will further their goals, who am I to say otherwise?

I also want to reiterate that this year-long project intended to be a guilt trip--maybe just a reminder to myself and my readers that a small act of kindness (or craft of kindness!) can go a long way toward improving someone's day. Maybe make someone's life a tiny bit easier. Maybe remind someone that they're not alone. I'd like this experiment to show that crafting can--and should--foster connection. Be creative and enjoy!

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