By Russ Lay | Outer Banks Voice on December 23, 2012
The holiday season is, perhaps too much, focused on the exchange of gifts.
Here on the Outer Banks, gift-giving goes on all year, and Christmas is a good time to recognize the gifts that are bestowed on us each and every day.
I have lived in many cities along the Eastern Seaboard, most of them large metropolises. Charity abounds in these huge clusters of humanity, but often they are as big and complex as the large corporations that employ their populations.
Along the Outer Banks, we lack the benefits of a large corporation like Coca-Cola or IBM to fund charitable needs. And because our economy is so fragile, charitable needs cross all social boundaries.
So the first gifts we should all be thankful for are the owners and employees of our small business community. All year long, these companies and their workers, some in need of help themselves, can be seen organizing, volunteering and working in the trenches at Relay for Life, Get Pinked!, The Food Pantry, the Outer Banks Community Foundation, Food for Thought, and so many others.
In particular, our real estate community is present at almost every major fundraiser held in Dare County.
Our church community is a second source of giving. I am amazed at how well our churches work together, across denominations, to extend a helping hand to all of the above causes, as well as hurricane relief, clothing for those in need, and reaching out to the many international students who land on these shores each summer.
The civic and professional organizations along the Outer Banks are among the hardest working I’ve seen anywhere. Our Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, and similar clubs raise money for worthy causes all year long and their members often comprise the governing boards of many charitable organizations.
Indeed, Dare’s Community Care Clinic and the Outer Banks Community Foundation both draw upon these civic clubs for funds and management.
Our professional organizations, from the Homebuilders to the Association of Realtors and the Outer Banks Restaurant Association are at the forefront of uncountable charitable events.
But it isn’t only business and civic leaders who donate their time and talents.
Concerned citizens are at the helm of organizations to protect our environment, lend a helping hand to our canine and feline community, coaching our sports teams, scouting organizations and other activities that provide direction and healthy alternatives for our youth.
Think of Toys for Tots, Samaritan’s Purse, and those wonderful Salvation Army bell ringers — all of whom are local church and civic club members, plus some individuals who simply want to be a part of the holiday spirit.
And we cannot forget our public servants who protect us every single day: police, fire, EMS, our teachers and yes, our municipal and county employees.
This year, a group of motivated parents, teachers and students started Project Purple, an organization led by an ex-NBA player to encourage students to avoid alcohol and drugs. The kickoff in Dare County was so successful, the national Project Purple organization is coming to Dare County in January to acknowledge the effort.
It comes as no surprise that Dare County ranks at the top of the nation in per capita giving during the Relay for Life campaign year after year. In fact, that top-ranking status was maintained even in the face of the worst real estate market and highest unemployment in this county since the Great Depression.
If you want to witness the extent of volunteerism in our community, come marvel at the massive number of local citizens who comprise the workers at the Outer Banks Marathon, which donates huge sums to the Outer Banks Relief Foundation and the Dare Education Foundation.
Yes, Christmas is a time of giving gifts.
But the people of the Outer Banks, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, keep Christmas in their hearts all year and give their gifts of time, talent and money with selflessness unrivaled in any other locale where I have lived.
And for that, we should all be thankful.
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