Many years ago, I was on my annual Christmas shopping trip with the kids. I have wonderful memories of shopping with them to pick up family gifts and the little odds and ends that are fully unnecessary but fun to have at the holidays. It was also the day we delivered charitable donations for those less fortunate. I deliberately chose that day to deliver donations to show the kids that giving back was important when you had extra money to spend on frivolities. I wanted them to grow into adults who understood that not all folks are as lucky and understand there are many ways to help other people.
It was an odd year, one where we could not find any donation drop-spots in our town. As a rule, there are dozens of places to drop groceries and toys for needy families. This day, we went from place to place only to leave with our donations still in the trunk of the car. The day was growing long, the kids were getting cranky from being exhausted, and we were all ready to be home. Our final stop of the day was at one of the discount stores a few miles from home. I don't recall why we stopped at this little store, but we did, and as we waited in the queue to pay for our purchases, I noticed a man in the line.
He was bedraggled and wearing a coat that had worn out years earlier. Under that threadbare jacket, his painfully thin shoulders hunched as if waiting for the world to crash down upon him. He was holding a single can of dog food in his battered, gloveless fingers. This man, who I did not know, reminded me of a time when my family was impoverished. He was very down on his luck - it showed. If you've shopped with children, you know that they will keep your attention, particularly at the checkout counter. At the sight of this forlorn man, the kids had gone very quiet. They were waiting, watching as he paid, and started shuffling toward the door.
As I was paying, I asked the cashier if she knew of any dropoff locations for our donations. She responded that she had struggled herself to find a place. Feeling more frustrated, I sighed in resignation and gathered the kids to head to our car.
The wind was blowing hard as we started to load the bags into the trunk. We were repositioning the bags of groceries when the man hesitantly approached the car. The boys instantly surrounded me, halting the man in his steps. He patted the air in front of him in a supplicating manner, quelling any misunderstanding we may be experiencing.
"I heard you asking the cashier if she knew of any donation places. I just wanted to let you know where you can drop your stuff," he said in a quiet voice.
Waving away the boys, I beckoned him closer to the trunk, where he peered inside. His eyes widened as he gazed at the bags of food.
I heard rather than saw him swallow deeply. "You have a lot of good stuff in there," he noted in that same soft murmur.
Indeed, this gentleman was very far down on his luck. It showed in the hollowness of his cheekbones and the hungry longing in his eyes. Regularly, I helped to feed people, but I was staring in the face of hunger on this day. This man was hungry, and rather than asking for the food, he told me where I could take it to help other people.
"Are you hungry? Do you need the food," I asked gently.
I watched as he struggled before finally acknowledging that he was hungry and needed the food. It's a foul business to witness a hungry man wrestling with his pride before admitting he needs food to eat.
There were too many bags for him to ride his ancient bike home, and he refused a ride. He actually reprimanded me for offering him a ride.
We called a taxi to give him a lift home. When I tried to give the driver money for the ride, the driver refused.
"No, ma'am, this one is on me," he said with a smile.
With the help of my kids, the food and bike were loaded into the taxi. I knew that this man would have food to eat for several weeks, maybe even a couple of months if he rationed himself.
Before leaving, he once again approached with that same wariness. I smiled and waved him toward me, feeling as if I had made a friend.
"I look dirty, but it's just because my clothes are old. Can I hug you?" he asked.
I took the hug and returned it tightly, choking back tears when we whispered his thanks in my ear. That was a good day; we helped to put food in a hungry man's belly.
Several years passed, and I prayed for the man's fortune to change. In our brief interlude, it was easy to see the goodness of this person.
While shopping at Walmart, I was smiling at several people I knew when a gentleman approached me with a smile. I smiled in return, as I always do, and he laughed a little as he came closer.
"You don't recognize me," he said.
I admitted he was right. "I feel like I should," I confessed.
You've guessed it; it was my hungry friend who had needed food on a cold, windy day several years earlier.
He explained that we had changed his life that day. He had put his life back in order and was now working to help support needy people. On several occasions, I've seen him, and he always takes a moment to give a hug and quickly catch up. That one small moment changed his life, proving that we can change our little spot in the world.
This holiday season, many of us have less than normal. I know some people have nothing, and I have enough to help out. Your small donation can make a huge difference in someone's life. If you have only a little spare, only spare that small amount. Check with your local food banks or dropoff centers; they'll be thrilled with any gifts you give.
This year has also had an extreme impact on our foster care system. Many foster children will have no opportunity to see their families this holiday because of COVID-19. For some, it's likely to be a dreary holiday.
Foster homes are often misrepresented in the media, and particularly in the entertainment industry. There are horrible foster homes, and there are wonderful foster homes, like everything else in this life. Many foster parents don't have extra money to provide a true holiday for their foster children.
That's not a negative commentary on the foster parents who provide a safe harbor for their foster children. It's just a fact of life that some foster parents don't get too emotionally attached to avoid the pain when the child returns to their family. This doesn't make them bad people, just human people who want to do good without suffering overmuch.
Most folks don't realize that the names they're picking off the angel tree are often children in foster care. You have no idea how grateful a child is when they find a gift under that tree. Each person who plucks a name off of a tree or drops toys in a box or food at a food bank is one of Santa's angels.
I believe people are inherently good and want to help those in true need. Children especially shouldn't be forgotten if we have even the littlest bit to spare.
I've included a link to an organization that supports foster families. It's a wonderful group of people, many of whom are former foster children, who work to better foster care children's lives.
You can choose what organization with whom you want to work, of course. I added the link for Together We Rise to suggest to those who are unsure of how to give back.
Please consider if you can help. On behalf of the foster children who will
have a happy holiday because of your kindness and generosity - thank you.
Sending love and virtual hugs,