The gift of giving

While many of us are able to celebrate the holidays with our loved ones, not everyone in our community is so fortunate. Those living on the margins need our support so that they might be able to make ends meet, and make the holiday season merry. As Christmas draws ever near, now more than any other time of year, we are called to embrace the spirit of giving.

In addition to the over 70 year-round services and programs that we provide across eastern Massachusetts, more than 30 different parishes are participating in our Giving Tree program. Each parish is sent a list of gifts for their Giving Tree which parishioners can then buy to provide a happy yuletide to nearly 5,000 children and elderly folks in our community from Lowell to Lynn and from Boston to Brockton.

Toys for Tots, service groups, schools, youth groups and local companies are among those who help make Christmas special for many across Catholic Charities. This happens in a special way in Catholic Charities South office, located in Brockton. There, we set up a store full of donated toys, books and warm winter clothing for parents of children to "shop" so that they can choose gifts for their children.

It is both heartwarming and inspiring to see so many reach out to those who are struggling at this time of year.

Interestingly, reaching out to help others is not merely beneficial to those we assist, but as Dr. Christopher Willard explains in new book "Raising Resilience: The Wisdom and Science of Happy Families and Thriving Children," numerous studies have illustrated that the benefits of giving do not stop with the person being helped.

"Donating to charity once a month adds as much happiness as a 200 percent raise, and countries with higher levels of charity have higher levels of happiness. It might seem like common sense that the recipient of generosity feels more trust, but studies also show that the giver's brain regions associated with trust and connection light up, fostering optimism, reducing depression, and creating healthy relationships."

In addition to the benefits behaving generously provides us as individuals, research shows that acts of generosity actually do spread from one person to the next. In a study conducted by UC San Diego professor James Fowler and Harvard professor Nicholas Christakis, they demonstrated that merely observing acts of generosity could inspire a kind of "downstream reciprocity" in others up to three degrees of separation. Meaning that kind acts have a cascade effect and inspire others to engage in their own acts of generosity.

The work that we do here could never be done alone. We partner with so many -- state agencies, other non-profits, private funders and scores of volunteers -- in our efforts to assist children and families. We hope that during the holiday season, acts of kindness will create "downstream reciprocity" and that many of you will join us in our efforts to live out the Gospel's directive, to help those around us. We look forward to welcoming you as a volunteer, as a donor or as an ambassador for our work, and thank you for your invaluable contribution.

With our wishes for a blessed Christmas for you and those you hold dear.

To learn more about our work, go to

- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.