Giving the Gift of Service

If you’ve been on cheap ticket watch, you know we’ve passed the date when prices for air fares drop.  According to reports, this year, August 22 was the magic date when one could count on the airlines to drop their prices for domestic travel.  August 21st was the magic date for international travel, and this year, I’ve timed it just right.  After enduring a grueling first year on campus, I decided to book my flight to Orlando, Florida to celebrate my mom’s September 10th birthday using a Groupon deal like I always do.  Many times, I get great deals on Groupon before the season starts.  Mom has a time share there so we all decided to fly down for the weekend and take in the sights around Orlando. When I say all, I mean my sister, her toddler Joey, and my brother.  Our dad died a few years ago, and this was to be the first time we would be together since the funeral.  As a student, I live for cheap flights.  I’m usually so bogged down by school related expenses I can’t even dream of taking a vacation.  So the thought of being in the company of my siblings was a thrill.  For the first couple of days anyway.

Since I booked my flight, the devastating hurricanes have come and gone, leaving millions without power, housing, jobs or worse.  The building in Orlando where we planned to stay took a hit, but the damage was quickly repaired and we moved in as scheduled.  In fact, most of the theme parks and major resorts reported they had been spared the worse damages, and many were opened a few days after the storm passed to the west.  Still, it didn’t feel right to spend time flying around on Dumbo when so many people needed help just to get food and water.

I was awed by Home Depot whose disaster team moved right in and started handing out supplies.  They helped the first responders set up a staging area so the relief efforts could proceed in an orderly manner.  Inspired by the way the displaced residents jumped in to help, we decided to make Mom’s birthday a day of service, and drove two hours south to volunteer at a shelter that still had animals waiting to be reunited with their owners.  I’m studying to be a vet, so I got hands-on experience and bonded with the staff at the shelter.  My 3-year-old nephew ran around with my brother filling feeding trays and left with a little puppy of his own.  Mom beamed at us all working together and said it was the best vacation she’d had in years.  Thanks to cheap flights, I spent precious time with my family who realizes more than ever that tomorrow is not promised to anyone, and that spending time together is the best gift.