Do as the barber does

October 12, 2002

IN THE WORLD of giving, Rob Cradle stands out. He doesn't have millions to bestow on the charity of his choice. He isn't a professional philanthropist.. And he doesn't run a soup kitchen.

He's a barber from Odenton with a philosophy about helping his fellow man that might challenge or confound you. It goes like this: Anything you own or have, you can use for the greater good, no matter how insignificant. The inspiration is biblical; the application, practical.

"If I worked at a job that had too many paper clips at the end of the year," he explains, "I would have a paper clip ministry."

But the tools of his trade are a pair of scissors, a shaver, shampoo and an aftershave or two. And with those, Rob Cradle has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of homeless men, patients at mental health clinics and others who can't afford a shave and a haircut. He has recruited others to the cause: customers and barbers from his shop, business associates and members of New Life Fellowship Baptist Church in Hanover, where he worships.

The spirit has so moved him that last year he started a foundation that provides personal hygiene products to the needy.

Mr. Cradle could afford to write a check to the homeless shelter or mental health program he visits. Most Americans contribute that way. Nearly nine in 10 families gave charitable donations in 2001 that averaged about $1,620, according to the Independent Sector survey of giving and volunteering. The number of people surveyed who volunteer is less, about 44 percent.

But in today's tough times, with the economy in a downturn, the stock market in the tank and layoffs mounting, it's likely that charitable giving will decline this year.

That's why Mr. Cradle's paper clip philosophy makes sense. Who needs a checkbook when you have yourself?

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, restaurants and chefs in Manhattan donated their culinary skills to help feed rescue workers. American doctors take time out from their practices to volunteer at medical clinics in impoverished Haiti. A Palestinian immigrant in New York uses her fluency in Arabic to translate for Muslim women seeking shelter from abusive spouses. When a tornado tore through Charles County earlier this year, neighboring Amish carpenters arrived with hammers in hand to help rebuild.

Too often, says Mr. Cradle, when he engages people on the idea of helping others, he hears: What should I do? What they should do is follow the barber's example.

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