In this time of giving, the recent unanimous 5-0 approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission of Goodwill Industries thrift store's proposed move to a better Post Road location was serendipitous, indeed. The symbolic meaning of this action at this time is palpable.

Despite ill-founded concerns by some neighbors, who warned that the move could lead to more crime, noise and traffic in the new location -- site of the former Peppermill Restaurant at 1700 Post Road East -- the commission wisely discarded the unfounded fears.

Fortunately, the P&Z made short shrift of these objections, including one by Tina Dragone, owner of the upscale women's clothing shop of the same name across the street at 1687 Post Road East, who was quoted as saying she opposed "having this kind of element coming into our neighborhood."

That remark stirred up considerable controversy in our community and was subsequently properly criticized by my colleague, Dan Woog, in a recent "Woog's World" column. I must confess that I, too, was disturbed by the use of the term "element" -- a phrase that dates back to the 1950s when prejudice against many groups was rampant.

That dog won't hunt these days.

The Goodwill thrift store, which has served Westporters for the past 50 years, now operates out of a cramped space at 1572 Post Road, The new space will be a 10,000-square-foot facility, according to Planning and Zoning Director Larry Bradley.

Commenting on the commission's approval, Bradley said Goodwill has one year to get the appropriate building and zoning permits. However, he added that it could start construction sooner, if it chooses. David Turner, president of Goodwill Industries, has told the Westport News he hopes the new facility will be ready for business in early 2012.

Initially, P&Z Chairman Ron Corwin was skeptical of the move. However, after some discussion and with the four other commissioners -- David Press, Howard Lathrop, Nora Jinishian and Eleanor Lowenstein -- voting for approval, Corwin joined the majority.

Zoning issues always have been vigorously debated by Westporters as far back as I can remember. It's part of our thriving grass-roots democracy in which everyone gets to have a say. Democracy is "messy," as the saying goes, but it works -- especially in Westport.

In addition to serving as a retail store, as it has for decades, Goodwill will also continue to have a donation center where the public can drop off items. This observer has made many donations to this center for a long time. I see it as a win-win public service.

Speaking of public service, First Selectman Gordon Joseloff recently put out a call for volunteers to serve on various boards and commissions. That gesture, it seems to me, is clear evidence that with all of the distractions due to our flagging economy and joblessness, many Westporters have not had time to think about serving their community.

Again, in the spirit of this giving season, I would recommend to anyone who wants to put some extra meaning in his or her life in 2011 that you get in touch with Town Hall and find out what is available. From my own experience, I can testify that public service is an enormously gratifying experience.

I had the honor of serving on the Representative Town Meeting when I first came to Westport more than four decades ago and aside from the fact that it enables me to get to know how town government works, I had that rare opportunity to find out what my constituents wanted and then to bring their concerns before the town's legislative body.

The spirit of volunteerism never has been stronger in our town. Just the other day, I was helped by a Westporter whom I had never met before. I had gone to Norwalk Hospital for a minor procedure. On the way out, I was wheeled (rules require patients to be wheeled to the door) by a lovely, elderly Westport woman who gave me an "express" ride through the hallways of the hospital.

When we got to the glass doorway where the car drop-off and pick-up booth was located, she insisted on me staying in my chair while she wheeled me out into the 20-degree cold, without wearing a heavy coat. I began to protest and express concern for her and she told me she does this routine every day and not to worry about her.

When we got to my car, I turned to her and said: "Do you mind if I ask how old you are?" She replied with a gentle smile: "I'm 85 and going strong." After a minute or two, I found out that she has been a volunteer there for years and loves doing it. She said, "It keeps me going." I hasten to add that there are many other Westporters of all ages who also volunteer at that hospital.

Finally, I'd like to suggest that, time permitting, you take advantage of all the activities going on around town during this festive time of year. The Westport Historical Society (full disclosure, I am a member of the advisory board), has a continuing series of exhibits that have enticed many residents, and a gift shop with all kind of memorabilia that you cannot find anywhere else in town.

And, of course, there are dozens of other activities going on in which a large number of residents are participating - from art shows, to theater, to concerts, to lectures. The Westport Public Library continues to be a focal point of cultural events and guest speakers, including many local authors.

One last thought. We all have neighbors who, if not literally shut-ins, rarely go outside in the winter. Many of our townspeople live alone and have difficulty coping with the holiday season for good reason: they are lonely. There is never a better time than now for all of us to reach out to some of our neighbors and friends who cannot -- for various reasons -- get around town. I guarantee you that a gesture like this makes you feel better.

Woody Klein's Out of the Woods" column appears weekly in the Westport News.