Every Year: Christmas Mother
This Year: Crossover Clinic, Salvation Army's Silver Bells Program 

Creative Giving

Every year like clockwork, as the turkey comes out of the oven, a serene portrait of a not-quite-gray society matriarch appears in the daily paper. She's the Richmond Christmas Mother, a volunteer whose handwritten thank-you notes stand in elegant contrast to the desperate cries for food and toys that are published throughout the giving season. They, the Christmas Mothers, are women of stature, known for their tireless work at Sheltering Arms or the Junior League or Children's Hospital. They've committed their lives to genteel, compassionate caring for others - they're angels, mommies, queens of the ball. They are seemingly ageless, upswept and trim in their boiled-wool jackets and good strands of pearls. Their smiles, never frozen, wear the warmth of privilege and courtesy. They demand respect, even from cynics who might otherwise mock their predictability - they are, after all, doing what they can to help those less fortunate have a cheerier Christmas. In short, they are the gentle, loving face of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which orchestrates the program. Now, nothing should stop a giver from stroking a check to the Christmas Mother in any year, particularly a bullish one. Let's just hope those checks are sent in the spirit of altruism, not in a smug desire to see one's name in print. There are other mothers to whom a check might also be presented, without public recognition but with intense gratitude. There's Myrna McLaughlin, a self-styled "Freelance Missionary" whose work in Richmond with Crossover Health Center has now moved into a global outreach effort wherever the call is greatest. That means a reservation in North Dakota, or a small clinic in a Mexican border town, or a hospice in the Dominican Republic. McLaughlin says she envisions a circuit-rider approach to community health care in poor, rural areas; she works with local parishes to provide it. Email her at mymclaughlin@hotmail.com to find out what's next on her far-flung agenda helping others. Or, consider a new option for a forgotten generation: the Silver Bells program through the Salvation Army. Special Events and Volunteer Director Beth Clifton says local agencies have identified 200 vulnerable senior citizens "who have very limited support and possibly no family in the area, who could really use a gift at the holidays." She's compiled a wish list of toiletries, pajamas, flashlights, note cards with postage stamps and other useful items that might make a dreary holiday more comfortable. Givers take their contributions to the Army's distribution center for delivery, or call 864-2588 for more

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