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Little Sacrifices Can Add Up to Something Great

By John Kelly
Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas is not necessarily the season of sacrifice. Easter has that wrapped up. And yet for many of us, Christmas this year -- at least the buying presents part -- will require a sacrifice. In a recession, we watch our pennies. We give up buying frivolous things so we can buy essential things.

That makes it tough on charities, which are essential to the people who depend on them but might not be to the people who are asked to donate to them.

Which brings us to Children's National Medical Center. If you've just recently stumbled across this column, you might be curious about some of the stories that have appeared here over the past few weeks.

To explain, we'll need to go back about 60 years, when a man named Bill Gold started writing a daily local column in The Washington Post. Almost from the start, Bill encouraged readers to donate to Children's Hospital through the paper. Back then, he welcomed coins, bus tokens, stamps -- small offerings that were squirreled away in a shoebox before being converted to donations to the hospital.

Bill's thinking was that readers want to feel connected to their city. They want to help those who are less fortunate, but they might not know how to do that. This newspaper can make it easy.

With my columns, I try to convey some of the drama of the hospital: the skill of the doctors and nurses, the bravery of the young patients. I want to inform, entertain, inspire -- I especially want to inspire you to give.

We need to raise $500,000 by Jan. 9. So far, we've raised $100,589.56. How can we raise $399,410.44 in the next four weeks?

That's where sacrifice comes in. The foundation of this campaign has always been modest donations from many people. And so I wonder: Would you bring your lunch from home two or three days in a row rather than eat out if it meant 10 or 20 bucks for Children's Hospital? Would you do without lattes for a week, accepting the vile brew from the office coffeepot, if it meant you had $15 to donate?

Would your firm eschew the promotional gifts it doles out to customers during the holidays in favor of a letter that said a donation was being made to Children's?

Would you put an empty jar in the break room at your office and invite employees to donate the change in their pockets for the next month? Or would you invite your holiday party guests to make a check out to Children's Hospital? (That's what Marty Hoffman of the Crystal City patent law firm Hoffman, Wasson & Gitler has been doing for 39 years. Marty's party this month raised $10,200 for Children's Hospital.)

Would you gather the change from your house, as Chris Kakenkamp's family did? "My son recently broke his arm, and I was amazed at the cost, which fortunately for us, was covered by insurance," wrote Chris, of North Potomac. That got Chris thinking about Children's Hospital.

He decided to involve his children. Liz, 8, and Eric, 6 (and only recently castless), helped Chris round up all the change in the house as well as some of the Christmas money their grandparents gave them. "We ended up donating $145.56! Perhaps other families could pull together their pennies, nickels, quarters and dimes and help you succeed."

Reader Nancy Benjamin said that this year she's donating to Children's Hospital whatever amount she was going to give to her letter carrier. "I will give him a card saying so," she wrote. (Tough on the letter carrier? The Postal Service says it's against the rules for carriers to accept gifts of money.)

These are all great ideas. Here's another: If you'd like to make a donation in someone's name -- to honor a teacher or a grandparent who's impossible to shop for -- I'll send a letter informing that person of your gift. If your company raises money for a donation, I'll mention it in my column.

A little bit of sacrifice from a lot of people and we can reach our goal. To donate, write a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md., 21297-1390.

To donate online using a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.

To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

My blog: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/commons.

My e-mail: kellyj@washpost.com.

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