The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on November 4, 2010.

Although newspapers are often filled with bad news, I saw two items recently – totally unrelated to each other but with a few things in common – that really got me excited. They gave me hope and faith in what people can accomplish when they set their minds on positive achievements, when they’re working toward something that benefits others as well as themselves, and when they have the right motivation.

The first was an ad in last week’s Chanhassen Villager announcing a Halloween Candy Buy-Back event sponsored by St. Francis Regional Medical Center and Park Dental – Shakopee. Kids who brought in their Halloween candy on November 1 would get paid a dollar per pound of candy, and for every pound of candy bought back St. Francis would donate $2 to the Scott Carver Project Community Connect. The candy collected would be sent to troops overseas.

This really struck me as a win-win-win-win situation. Although I wouldn’t expect the high obesity rate in our country – and the alarmingly high number of overweight children – to override an age-old tradition like trick-or-treating on Halloween night, an incentive like cold, hard cash might convince kids to part with some or all of the candy they collected.

Hospitals and dental offices certainly see the ill effects of candy on children – adults, too, for that matter – so taking part in an event like this is a great idea for them. The monetary donations from St. Francis will help support projects and services for the homeless in Scott and Carver Counties, and the candy sent to troops overseas will be a very welcome and much-appreciated gift for those who deserve it most – and who run little risk of developing problems with their health or weight because of a few pieces of candy.

The other news item I read was an article in the Star Tribune that also had to do with weight issues, but was about people who tied weight-loss goals and accomplishments with fighting hunger in impoverished places. One set of sisters, each of whom weighed over 200 pounds, was appalled at the starvation one of them witnessed while doing volunteer work in Africa. The two women were inspired to slash their food budgets and their food consumption so they could send money to a children’s meal program in Namibia. In the process, they’ve lost 60 pounds each and are still going strong.

The article gave examples of different companies and organizations that promote healthy eating and are tying weight loss to donations made to food shelves and other food- and health-related charities. The incentives that individuals have to lose weight are bolstered by the goal and the motivation of helping others for whom food is scarce and health is endangered by lack of food rather than too much of it.

I don’t know how widespread this trend is, or what the long-term effects will be, but I am excited about the multiple benefits and accomplishments these endeavors can bring. I truly believe that people are by nature altruistic and want to help others. But we’ve become jaded, suspicious and overwhelmed because of all the demands placed on us and the requests for our time, money, and energy – especially by those that turn out to be fraudulent or misleading. We see way too much of that today, and I think it keeps many of us from donating and contributing to causes that are very worthwhile and genuinely in need.

When we help others while we’re helping ourselves, or when we help ourselves while we are helping others, our motivation can increase immeasurably, and so can our success rate. When that happens, everybody wins.

I hope this is a trend that does, indeed, catch on and continue to grow. Not just in relation to food, health, or candy, but in every area of our lives. If we look for things we can do that have multiple benefits for multiple people – ourselves included – we might just find the key to solving many of the problems we face today. As individuals, as communities, and as a country.

And that would be news worth reading.

© Betty Liedtke, 2010