Gift Giving

CHILDREN (not to mention adults) often ask each other what they would do if they had a million dollars. Answers vary from the whimsical (buy a lifetime supply of candy) to the practical (invest it for the future). The question takes on particular meaning around the holidays, when we tend to think more about the needs of others.

Dorothy Benjamin, a 94-year-old former teacher from Clearwater, Fla., recently donated $1 million to the University of South Florida - because she was pleased a woman was running the school. Her money was earned over seven decades of investing in stocks.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis also was the recipient of a $1 million gift - in this case from an anonymous donor who won a McDonald's contest and quietly handed the winnings over to the hospital. Everyone in this story ended up a beneficiary: the children of St. Jude, McDonald's (who didn't mind one bit all the free publicity), and the donor, whose gift was entirely separate from personal adulation.

In Detroit, after a fire destroyed the warehouse of one of the city's largest charities, the local ABC-TV affiliate opened its own warehouse to replace lost donations. No one gave $1 million, but the result was equally amazing. Traffic was backed up for two days as thousands of people came bearing gifts. One man offered the clothes off his back. Another donated the change in his pocket. Dozens of people gave clothes and toys. The warehouse soon filled to capacity.

Those of us who read and hear about such stories benefit as much as the givers and receivers. The conventional wisdom is that Americans have become inured to the too-often tragic news reports of the day. But then, in the midst of it, come stories like these.

Many of us will continue to speculate about what we would do with a million dollars. Only now it might not be hard to imagine giving it (or lesser amounts) away to help those in need.

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