There are three stages of man: he believes in Santa Claus; he does not believe in Santa Claus; he is Santa Claus. – Bob Phillips
I think that may have been one of the first times I knew David and I were meant to be. When I realized we both shared a sense of responsibility to people who have less than ourselves. Sometimes that plays out in politics or volunteering or empathy, but from that sentiment a holiday tradition arose–one of my favorite. One that defines who I think we are as a couple. One that I’m really proud of.
Each year, our holiday present to each other is to support kids whose parents might not be able to afford gifts this year. And we do it up big, the way our parents did for us. This year we picked two kids from DC Central Mission’s holiday list and headed to the store.
I’m not particularly girly, but I reveled in my 15-17 year old girl’s list: make-up, purses, jewelry, Seventeen magazine. She wants Hello Kitty? I can make that happen. I lost David as he searched (i.e. played in) the Lego aisles, found a regulation basketball and tossed a Nerf football in the cart for good measure.
The list asked us not to include clothes since those can be complicated and personal, but David and I struggled not to have a pragmatic gift among the collections. The Mission asked us to consider including a “bed roll,” so purple and green sleeping bags it is.
Last year we had gotten a late start, missed the deadlines for “angel tree” kids; we were both pretty down about making this mistake. On Christmas Eve, we went with David’s family to their church intending to help out in the soup kitchen while his family attended services. It was the first year that it really became clear that people in these lines were no longer just the truly destitute. These were people living on the edges of poverty, trying hard to keep themselves afloat.
While we were down there we learned that one of the families had recently lost their home and were living out of their car.
Three kids–teenagers–and their parents were living in a van. Each day the father would drive the kids to school before he took his wife to work and he went to the library to submit resumes and look for jobs. We asked what they needed and what they wanted. Their wants were their needs: toothbrushes, sweatpants, gloves.
We went to the nearby Kmart and bought clothes, jackets, pillows, blankets, toiletries. We got them gas gift cards and a gift card to Kmart so they could come back for more.
I have never been more humbled than when we returned those bags of things to the sleeping family. Two parents who were working hard to stay working, kids who were just trying to do their part by being kids.
I have never gotten more joy out of any other gift. Not even my Barbie dollhouse circa 1989.
This year I had the opportunity to write about all the ways people in my neighborhood could give back this holiday season. It might be one of the things I’m most proud to have written, to have done research on places were people are helping people and to share with others how they can help too.
I hope this holiday season you find a way to spread your joy. That’s my Christmas wish for you.
Giving Kicks Ass via HuffPo
Tips for Giving Smart via Charity Navigator
How I Blew $1,000 and Ruined Christmas via Forbes
Anonymous Donors Pay Off Kmart Layaway via Yahoo!