Next year, here’s who I hope we are considering as candidates for “Person of the Year”:  The nine women-they call themselves the Nine Nanas-in Tennessee who have spent more than thirty years secretly helping their community.

Inspired by the kindness of a set of grandparents who cared for four of the women, these nine friends went from playing cards together and dreaming of helping others, to pooling money saved from giving up laundered shirts and clipping coupons to help people in need in their community.  Anonymous care-packages of clothes and food, secretly paid utility bills, presents for children-and, most of all, homemade pound cakes-are their way of helping those facing hard times and spreading hope and happiness.

Their story, recently told in the Huffington Post, reads like a feel-good movie, heart-warming and almost quaint.  For decades, the secret Santas hid their good deeds from their own husbands, but when they finally revealed their secret, the husbands-rather than being upset-offered to help.  So did the groups’ children once they were also brought into the loop.  Now this once informal charity has grown into a business and website, Happiness Happens; the proceeds of selling hundreds of pound cakes help fuel their good deeds.

Time’s “Person of the Year” title often goes to an influential political leader, but sometimes it’s given to a person, or to a group, who exemplifies a powerful trend that’s shaping history.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if next year was one in which small, anonymous acts of kindness and charity, like those of the Nine Nanas, were a dominating trend?

Alas, the Nine Nanas are-appropriately-not in the running for 2012.

Instead, among the forty candidates under consideration by Time is Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student and advocate for free contraception.  Indeed, Fluke may be the perfect symbol of 2012.  While often described as a “women’s rights activist,” Fluke’s crusade isn’t for any core human liberty, to end the subjection of women in the Middle East, to stop human trafficking, or even to help the poor.   She’s fighting so women like her-thirty-something law students who will earn on average about twice the national median income after graduation-don’t have to pay directly for contraception.

Who is supposed to pay for the pill?  Fluke doesn’t seem to care-employers, the government, Americans as a whole through higher taxes or insurance premiums-as long as individual users don’t face those costs.

Fluke became the poster woman for Democrats’ “War on Women” campaign, which successfully painted those who argue against expanding government, who are concerned about the effects of such mandates on core freedoms such as religious liberty and on struggling employers, as “anti-contraception” or even “anti-woman.”  Fluke and this tactic likely helped the President get re-elected without his ever articulating a plan to address our considerable national challenges, such as our monstrous national debt and chronic joblessness.

Fluke’s demand to force others to provide for women like her, and her ascent into political celebrity, contrast dramatically with the Nine Nanas’ humble kindnesses.  The Huffington Post reports that the Nine Nanas often include a note saying “Someone Loves You” with their anonymous care packages.  The women recognize that people need more than free stuff; they also need hope and the belief that someone knows who they are and cares about them.

Their story reminded me of Cornerstone School, a Christian school that caters to low-income students, in Washington D.C.  One of the schools founders explained to me that, whenever possible, students are introduced to the donors who fund their enrollment.  That way the kids see that the money comes from a real person.  This isn’t to humble the child, but to bring home that someone cares about them and believes in their future.

Some government programs are necessary to help those who cannot help themselves.  Yet government programs don’t send any comparable message of hope or encouragement, like the Nine Nanas or Cornerstone.  Most sadly, government programs can become entitlements and lead people to expect, rather than to appreciate, what they receive.  Government giveaways-the “free” contraception, “free” cell phones, “free” college tuition-is helping bankrupt our government.  But far worse is how it bankrupts our culture.

Sandra Fluke can have 2012.  Let’s hope that the future belongs to the Nanas.

Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.