By Ellen Fix

The word ‘retirement’ conjures up images of endless vacations, kicking back and enjoying a life of leisure.

For 61-year-old Sandy Springs resident Dan Walden, it’s much more.

It all started with cheeseburgers. Walden, who had been with UPS for 28 years, and his wife Page had gone out to eat cheeseburgers at what formerly was Reah’s Burgers at North River Shopping Center. In a nearby used bookstore, he noticed some ladies sorting clothing. Interested, he found out they were with the Children’s Restoration Network.

The CRN (www.childrn.org/newhome.asp), they explained, provides basic necessities and service programs to some 1,900 children in 120 group homes and shelters throughout the 18-county metro area.

Shortly after the conversation, Walden was hooked. Now every December, he is involved with CRN’s annual “12 Days of Caring”, which collects toys and gifts to distribute to homeless children. And his middle name might as well be Rudolph.

Culminating the 12 Days of Caring is a Wrap Party, which this year was held in the North River Shopping Center. The public is invited to wrap more than 14,000 gifts, toys and clothing items. Of course, it’s BYOP (bring your own paper)!

Walden uses his pick-up truck –a.k.a. ‘sleigh’—to haul toys to points as far away as Cartersville and McDonough. Recipients range from small group homes with only a few residents to larger facilities, such as My Sister’s House affiliated with the Atlanta Union Mission, with 136 women and children.

Says Walden, “I have always tried to do different things for others simply because I think that’s what you are supposed to do. I like working with people; and if you believe what the Bible says, you are supposed to take care of orphans and people in need. And I don’t think retirement is anything but the time to step up your giving. Besides, more often than not I get more out of it than I put into it.”

While CRN’s goal is to have each shelter ‘adopted’ by a school group, women’s club or other organization, the Wrap Party gives anyone and everyone a chance to give to others less fortunate. Last year, 1,000 people showed up. Some participants have made the event a family tradition, with fathers and mothers taking time out from holiday shopping to teach sons and daughters the value of charity.

Walden, who currently tutors at Dunwoody Springs Charter School and has also taught Sunday School, administered a chapel at the Union Mission, and tutored at inner-city schools, is realistic. “You can’t go in with the attitude that I’m ‘captain rescue’. The truth is, I have never been able to out-give God. Whether money or time, I can’t. I don’t have the attitude that I’m going to change the world. Each person has to look at what they have in resources, whether it’s money or driving or baking a cake.”

However, Walden also cautions that just “writing a check” is not always the best way to help others. “Sure, everyone needs money,” he explains. “But you may be disengaged from the problem. You may get a good feeling from writing a hundred dollar check, but you really need to research where your money is going.”

This is one reason – although not the most important one – that Walden chose to work with the CRN “They are very cost-conscious. And Cliff and Jim [founders Cliff Kinsey and Jim Cox] are very appreciative and are sincere in their appreciation, not just to me but all the volunteers. They acknowledge the volunteers as being a key part of they are trying to accomplish.”

Although he’s only lived in Sandy Springs since 2000, Walden has already made Sandy Springs a better place through his volunteerism.

If you know someone who is “Making a Difference” in the community, and who you think we should profile, call 404-917-2200, ext. 13 or email editor@reporternewspapers.net.