This time of year, as things speed up around us and we attempt to slow down to take it all in, our thoughts turn to giving thanks — and simply giving. So many times, the act of giving turns into a gift we never expected to receive.
From the arts to animals, from the hungry to the homeless, the folks at Hammock Publishing are dedicated and involved in giving back to each of our communities. We share these examples of giving back to our community not to toot our own horns, but to learn from each other, to get to know each other better, and maybe encourage one reader out there to give back to their community in their own way — big or small.

Barbara Mathieson: I give back by volunteering at the Nashville Zoo about 100 hours a year. After 9/11, I wanted to get involved in the community. The Zoo has been a perfect place for me in ways I never expected.
Because I care about animals so much, the Zoo gives me an opportunity to be around an exotic variety of them. Recently, I was in a room with two snow leopard cubs and was able to observe them up close. I’ve touched a giraffe and felt his breathe and have fed a grape to a cassowary. (Please don’t do anything like this without zoo staff supervision. These situations were closely monitored by staff members. Never feed a zoo animal.)
As a docent at the Zoo, I talk to visitors about our animals. I love meeting the wide variety of people who visit. Everyone comes to the Zoo. I was once showing Amish visitors snake sheds when two tattooed and pierced 20-somethings walked up, and all of us interacted with each other about the snake skin sheds. The cultural differences didn’t matter.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet folks from all over the world and from all ethnic, economic, political and religious backgrounds that I would have never met otherwise. It’s great to find our common interest.
Allison Lund: Most people that know me well would know that the majority of my “giving” is for animals. I’ve given (and still give) time, money and needed items to the Nashville Humane Shelter, Love at First Sight and the Metro Animal Control Facility. But I guess what I do most is take care of three stray cats that came with our house when Erik and I bought it. When we found out from the previous owner that these kittens had been born under the deck, I didn’t have the heart to take them to a shelter, but they were also too feral to be adopted into homes. I knew I had to get them spayed/neutered as we didn’t want any more cats, so I got some humane traps and was able to capture them and get them to a vet to be spayed/neutered and to get shots. They weren’t too happy with that, but after I brought them back to our yard, I worked at gaining their trust, named them, fed them, got dog houses for them (that are heated in the winter) and have been caring for them for almost four years. I always think I would love for them to have a permanent inside home, but they are still very scared of anyone but me and they do not like being inside. Plus, I know I would miss them.
Another way I have given to the community is through my church. The Downtown Presbyterian Church has a large homeless program and every Sunday they have a breakfast for the homeless. They open the church fellowship hall on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. for what is usually a large homeless crowd. They are welcome to stay for the service afterward, but unfortunately most do not participate. For about two years, Erik and I volunteered once a month for the Sunday breakfasts. We don’t do it as often now as a lot of downtown businesses have started donating money, items and time/people to this cause on Sunday mornings.
Laura Creekmore: I don’t know that I could pick a favorite among these and many other things I do [not one to be bored], but I spend a lot of time working in the Junior League [] — nearly 2,000 women in Nashville working to build a better community. I love that because much of my volunteer work there in the past few years has helped me to meet people working in nonprofit agencies throughout Nashville.
I am vice president of the board for East Nashville Cooperative Ministry, which works with the low-income and homeless people in my neighborhood, providing a variety of services. I love to volunteer on a good political campaign, too… mostly local races.
Bill Hudgins: The Gallatin Noon Rotary Club raises money through an auction and solicitation to take 100 or so youngsters Christmas shopping the weekend before Christmas each year. Members accompany the kids through Wal-Mart. They are supposed to get some basic clothes for themselves, but other than that are free to get gifts only for themselves or for anyone else, up to the spending limit. Members also wrap presents for the kids. In addition, each family gets a shopping basket brimming with canned ham, turkey, milk, eggs, bread, fruit, etc. My wife, Wilda, is a member and she is the unofficial photographer; I wrap. High-school students in the school versioni of Rotary also participate.
Two stories: One year, Wilda was taking pictures as a family was headed out the door. One of the children, a little boy, looked at the basket and said, “Look Mama, a whole gallon of milk!”
Another family, when they received the food basket, seemed reluctant to accept. One of our high-school members probed a bit and found out they family’s refrigerator didn’t work. She told her parents they were buying a fridge then and there, and it was delivered to the family so the Christmas food wouldn’t spoil.
This day is our Christmas. Everything else is just tinsel and garlands.
Megan Goodchild: I run the crazy cat house in the neighborhood. My boyfriend and I feed the stray cats in the neighborhood and, believe it or not, most of them end up finding permanent homes. We have taken two in ourselves; one we’ve gotten all his shots and let him stay inside whenever he wants. The other one is still an outside cat (he lives in a little doghouse on our back porch that we’ve filled with blankets and a heating disc), but once we can trick him into getting into the cat carrier, we’re going to take him to the vet to make sure he’s neutered and has all his shots, too.
Natalie Willis: I’m sad to say that my only giving this year is in the form of a canned foods donation that my daughter’s daycare is having. This Thanksgiving, I am focusing on giving thanks to my parents and in-laws for all the help they have provided during the past year. Jason and I rapidly grew to a family of four, and this is the first year that I have actually needed help from my family. I’ve always been self-sufficient until the arrival of Sienna and Tyler. My parents and in-laws have done more for me and my children than I could ever hope for.
Kerri Davis: We are sort of just getting into the giving part of the year, but so far we helped prepare a meal and some supplies for the Ronald McDonald house thru my daughter’s 4th grade class. We did this a couple of weeks ago. Their school also did a fund drive for the Graceworks food pantry last week. Every year during the winter months, our church hosts Room in the Inn and our Sunday school class sponsors a weekend night throughout the winter. We either provide, food, cleanup or spend the night services for that.
Rex Hammock: Many years ago, the Nashville Rotary club (of which I’ve been a member for 20 years) came up with an idea that I think is wonderful. Rather than spread their civic projects across a wide region, they determined to focus the club’s considerable voluntary efforts into one Nashville downtown neighborhood ( links on left go to individual agencies).
In addition to financial support, club members have built over 20 homes, restored a community park, worked with small businesses, and provided a wide array of scholarships, tutoring and mentoring services to kids in the community. Civic and church leaders from the neighborhood were recruited to join the Civic Club and to help determine priorities for the involvement of the club members. The project has been carried out for over a decade, and one of the most amazing by-products of the activities has been the personal relationships that have developed among young people in the community and the executives and governmental leaders who have volunteered for the projects. I have participated in several of the activities over the years — not nearly enough — and, as with any type of volunteer work in such a community endeavor — I always get back so much more than I put in.
John Lavey: I heard a sermon recently where they asked all of us in the audience to be honest about what gave us more pleasure: giving or receiving a gift? My kids were quick to say they’d rather receive one. I couldn’t blame them for thinking that because I would have agreed with them, until more recently than I would like to admit. However, then I realized how giving is truly more rewarding. I believe we give because it is more fun. That said, here are some of my favorite fun things:
1. Alternative Christmas Market. This very creative program offered through Christ Church Cathedral allows you to make choices about how you want to give, such as a week’s free meals and a week’s daycare for a family that needs it, or immunizations, or the ability to pay someone’s heat bill. We gave gifts to others this year by making gifts that were in their name to this program. What’s cool is that we can match people’s interests (like doctor friends) with immunizations.
2. Adopt a family and buy their Christmas gifts for their family through Nashville Child Advocacy Center or St. Luke’s Community Center. This is great for getting kids involved. We’ve done this the last several years and it is the first thing in years that gives me the same sense of exhilaration that I had as a kid getting a bike for Christmas. They tell you ages of kids and some of their interests and you can go to town.
When I give time, I like to focus on programs where there are one-to-one opportunities to make a difference. The two organizations I serve are the Nashville Adult Literacy Council and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. Both groups provide one-to-one mentoring to make a difference in the lives of those who are being served (adult learners who need help with their most basic literacy skills in the case of the NALC and kids who need a caring adult mentor in the Case of BBBS).
Carrie Wakeford: I donate to the Nashville Rescue Mission. Very little money provides Thanksgiving dinner to many who otherwise would not get any.
Shannon McRae: I recently heard that Portland, Ore., (where the West Coast Hammock office is located) has more nonprofits per capita than any other city in the country. That makes it pretty easy to find some group that needs your help. My favorite one so far has been the food pantry at our church, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Meeting the people who come for food bags is a good reminder that they’re human, too — just not near as lucky as I am.
Though it’s not in my neighborhood, I never want to miss a chance to plug my favorite nonprofit — the Africa Foundation, a conservation group that also works to help the people who live in villages near protected areas in South Africa. My brother worked for the organization for a couple of years, and I got a chance to see the amazing things they do for people and animals when I visited there exactly two years ago this week. Distance doesn’t allow me to give anything more than money, but it’s nice to know that my tiny little bit helps do things like build schools, buy medicines and transport water to people in great need.
Lena Basha: For the second year in a row, I’m running in the Boulevard Bolt ( on Thanksgiving morning. It’s a five-mile race/fund-raiser for the homeless. I think it’s important to think of all the people on Thanksgiving who are much less fortunate than you. And on a more personal level, it makes me feel like less of a pig later that day when I’m on my third piece of pumpkin pie.
Summer Huggins: Each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, one of our local pottery galleries participates in the annual Empty Bowl Project. For your donation of $15, you can pick out a hand-crafted bowl from dozens of local artists. Your bowl is then washed, dried and prepared to be filled with soup from one of dozens of local restaurants who donate their recipes and time. You then sit down outside with your new bowl full of warm soup and listen to some live local music. I heard this year that each bowl purchased provided 75 meals through the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin (Hammock’s southern-most office).
I also can’t pass up the Salvation Army Angel Tree every year. With no kids of our own, it’s fun to have a reason to buy cute little clothes and fun toys for a child in the community who really might receive otherwise.

Wherever you are across the country, no matter how much a statement from the bank says you have in your account, there are ways to give back to your community — during the holiday season and throughout the year. It might just turn out to be the best gift you ever received.