The children are stooped in a hallway under a staircase, surrounded by giant bags stuffed with monster trucks, storybooks and baby dolls.
These children are giddy — wiggly, giggly, we-can’t-wait-to-get-moving happy.
One by one, they heave a bag up, barely lifting it off the floor, and stagger out the door.
Half an hour later, the kids have reassembled not far from downtown Dallas. They can’t keep their hands out of the bags. They gingerly press buttons, gently turn pages, exclaim over yet another superhero.
And then, finally, the moment they have been waiting for: It’s time to give the toys away.
For four years, my church congregation has spent one October Sunday not in our modest sanctuary but out in the community. We call it Don’t Go to Church, Be the Church.
There are about a dozen hands-on projects each year.
The first year, my family helped to deliver a meal — the equivalent of three or four meals, really — to a nearby fire station.
Our group had just placed the final casserole dish on a crowded table when the alarm sounded. The men we were serving raced away. Lunch would have to wait.
The next year, we joined a graffiti- fighting crew. We gathered on a scraggly field and fanned out, facing a brick wall covered in illicit words. We spent a couple of hours with paint, brushes and rollers in an effort to obliterate the graffiti and brighten a corner of a blighted neighborhood.
Last year, we chose to spend our Sunday morning at an assisted living center. Our group conducted a worship service with Scripture readings, songs and prayers for elderly residents.
This year, we joined the group delivering toys to Children’s Medical Center.
Many had hoped to personally place those new toys in the hands of patients. But that, understandably, wasn’t part of the plan. You can’t have random — albeit well-meaning — folks walking in and out of patient rooms.
Our toys were shelved, waiting for sorting and distributing by staff members who know which patients need what.
No worries. Not a single soul was dispirited by anonymous giving.
We were allowed to peek into a special playroom, designed to address the emotional and spiritual needs of young patients. We were invited to participate in the weekly chaplain service, held in a small chapel and broadcast live across the hospital.
We were giving a little and receiving abundantly.
As I sat on the floor of the chapel, I thought of my two healthy children. I thought of nurses, doctors and support staff who care for injured and ill kids.
I thought of all the families who have sought healing at the hospital, of dreams delayed and even abandoned.
I got lost for a moment, thinking of the heavy needs around us — hunger, poverty, violence and addiction. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you acknowledge our challenges.
At the same time, I found comfort in that chapel, crowded with children who were antsy to share, who were eager to give to others they would never even meet.
I thought of all the families I know who donate time, money and emotion to animal shelters, food banks, libraries, hospitals, schools and clothes closets.
The needs are staggering, but our hearts are bigger. Just imagine if all of us were so giddy about sharing. What if we all were wiggly, giggly, we-can’t-wait-to-get-moving happy about improving our communities?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.