I’m still not done paying for that free turkey

The most expensive turkey I ever got was free.

It was a cold and bleak night in early December. Dinner hadn’t gone so well – my wife was worried over how we would handle Christmas, and I had no answers for her. My newspaper had gone on strike in September, and there was no end in sight. Happy holidays? Humbug!

While Shirley was still working as a schoolteacher, our financial situation was grim, especially since we had just bought a house the previous summer.

As I watched the evening news and Shirley was doing the dishes, a knock came at the door. I was surprised – we rarely had unannounced visitors at night – so I was wary when I got up to answer it. My surprise grew even greater when I saw the fire chief of the city I covered as a reporter standing on the porch.

“The guys were getting the list together for our Christmas turkey giveaway, and your name came up,” the chief said. “We figured things might be tight for you because you’ve been on strike so long.”

I was almost speechless as he handed me a 12-pound frozen turkey, but I finally stammered out my thanks. I called in Shirley from the kitchen, and she managed to express our gratitude more eloquently.

The fire chief probably forgot about his visit to my home long ago, but I never did. It changed my life.

Ever since, I give special attention to people in need when the holidays roll around.

For the first few years after the strike, I couldn’t do much more than throw pocket change into a Salvation Army kettle. Our finances remained precarious, particularly because Shirley was laid off within a month after I found a new job.

But I was able to step up my game even after the kids arrived as I moved up to a well-paying position at a daily paper. I diversified my giving, too, adding a range of local charities to my list of beneficiaries. I found out the more I gave, the better I felt.

Unlike some of my friends, I try to keep my donations a secret. I give to receive an inner reward, not to demonstrate my generosity to the public. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this post is because it won’t appear under my real name.

My giving won’t set any records – I admire (and am a bit envious of) the good souls who anonymously drop gold coins in Salvation Army kettles – but I hope my contributions lift the spirits of at least a few people in despair and possibly inspire them to be more generous when they see better days.

By my count, that free turkey from the firefighters has cost me more than $3,000 to date. And I’m not done paying for it yet.