Brooks: You Don't need money to give

Last Friday I had $15. It wasn't $15 for the night or the weekend, but for the week ahead.

Between summer trips and birthdays I had wiped out my monthly budget and was left weighing my options. I had been invited to a potluck and thought about not going because I had nothing to bring.

At first I was perfectly happy to stay home and eat leftovers. It felt like a game to come up with meals based on what was in my cupboard and freezer.

As I made up creative dinners, I reflected on how isolating it is to be without resources. I thought of my neighbors for whom this is not a game but a daily reality.

They raise whole families on less than what I make. And they are generous.

In my lack, I felt myself withdrawing and pulling away from others. I thought about what I would need to take care of me in the week ahead. I had no margin to consider how to care for others.

As I figured and planned, I realized how courageous it is for some of my neighbors to live as generously as they do. When there is a baptism, wedding or big party, friends contribute to provide different parts of the party.

Many neighbors send money to their family in their country of origin. And every week at our Neighborhood Action Committee meeting, neighbors bring a food item to put in a box.

We discuss who needs the box most and a few neighbors deliver it to a family who lost work or was hospitalized or has a special need.

It takes courage to give something away when you are not sure if you have enough for yourself. And yet I see my neighbors make this sacrificial choice again and again.

It takes courage to show up when you have nothing in your hands to contribute. It is humbling to be the one with nothing to give.

However, if one cannot contribute to the box, we still want them at the meeting. That person's input and hard work are valuable to us.

In thinking about my neighbors' relationships, I was able to see my own pride. I knew my friends would reprimand me if they knew the reason I didn't go to the potluck.

They would tell me to come anyway, that they like me for me, not for the kind of cheese I can contribute. My neighbors teach me to identify the things we have to offer besides what is in our hands: our time, experiences, hard work, support and creativity.

Last Friday it felt hard to identify those things for myself. But I did it.

I rifled through the fridge and took a half-eaten block of fat free cheese to the potluck. I decided that my greatest contribution would be playing with a friend's child, laughing at another's jokes and being enjoyable company.

The next day I spent $15 on vegetables, and when a friend suggested eating out, I invited him over and fed him what I had.

I made it through the week and have not gone hungry or been lonely.

Let's see what I have to contribute this weekend.

CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.

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