It was time to get rid of my 14-year-old sofa to make room for the new sofa my mother got for me. She had decided, enough was enough, with her daughter living with a hideous (my mother does not mince words) scratched up old sofa (thanks to my lovely cats).
Clearly, the beat-up sofa would have to go for free. Goodwill would not accept it because it was considered “damaged”. It was still in fine shape for reclining; there were just a few tufts of fluff sticking out.
I am all about recycling and re-using. I couldn’t stand the thought of sending it to the dump. It would take forever to decompose and besides, wasn’t there someone who could use it?
Oh, the joys of the internet! The sofa was listed with all its dimensions and faults on Craigslist and Freecycle. Pretty soon I got nibbles from several people. The first person never showed up. The second person wondered if she could load it in her minivan with a cast on her arm. The third person who had seemed very interested realized five minutes later it would not fit in his minivan.
Serendipitously, Anna Woods, a family services worker for Head Start, a child and family preschool program for children living at or below the poverty line, saw my ad and contacted me with some good news. There was an interested family from her program who could pick up the sofa.
They showed up in a little pickup truck: a Hispanic grandfather, father, and his five year-old son. The boy was wearing a coat that was about 2 sizes too small; I couldn’t help but notice that his sleeves came only ¾ of the way down his arms. We all exchanged a few simple pleasantries (“Hola, como estas?”) while I silently berated myself for learning French instead of Spanish in school.
As the men carefully carried the sofa out of the house, I watched them converse about how they could manage to secure it in the truck. A quarter of the sofa stuck precariously out the back so they needed to find a way to transport it safely.
I got this restless feeling that there was something else I could be doing to help this family. I kept eyeing the little boy and a bunch of random thoughts kept filtering through…
His coat is too small.
We have so much, they have so little.
I want to be generous.
I want my kids to be generous.
I felt as if I couldn’t bear the thought of him leaving empty-handed. Then I remembered we had some clothes that were too small for my son.
I ran into his room to quickly find clothes he had outgrown and grabbed a few things. I hurried to give them to the family, who were just about leave. I marveled at how they had figured out what to do to: they had cleverly tied the sofa securely into the truck with some rope. This has inspired me, time and again, especially in Malawi, East Africa, when I was in the Peace Corps, where people who didn’t have much were incredibly resourceful at finding solutions. They have to be—it is a matter of survival.
I offered the clothes to the boy’s father; his face softened and he smiled. Nodding his head, he mumbled something. “Gracias,” perhaps. I waved goodbye and felt a warm, giddy feeling spread within me. It stayed with me through the rest of the evening. My efforts to unload my sofa had turned into a wonderful opportunity to be generous and to help another family in need.
And really, it is so easy.
This experience made me realize I could be more proactive with my generosity. Instead of waiting around for people to contact me and make arrangements for pick up, I could actually donate my things to an organization like Head Start.