Today is December first, and there’s a big article in our small local daily about the newspaper’s annual Christmas fund needing volunteers and donations. Last year they helped about 1500 families. This year, they expect about a 13% increase, and they’re gearing up for it by calling for 200 volunteers. They hope to raise $60,000 in donations. Since the average donation is about $50, that would mean that there are lots of people in this rural county helping out.
Families who receive help from this Christmas fund make application for it, and on December 20, they gather at a Christmas Party where grocery gift certificates and presents for kids are given out to families.
There are two ways to look at the structure this non-profit organization has set up for giving to needy families. On one hand, it’s too bad a family has to register to receive anything. I imagine it’s hard for some families to admit they need help, and thus some may have a pretty scanty and sad Christmas because of that. On the other hand, extending charity to someone who doesn’t want it can be a sticky wicket, too.
We were in that situation a long time ago—actually it was in the midst of a pretty nasty economic downturn. We had the farm, so we were eating well, but our construction equipment sales business had dried up and fallen off the vine. There just wasn’t any money for Christmas presents. I told the seven kids that Christmas from Mom and Dad would be out of my fabric cupboard, so they were prepared. We put up a tree and decorated every window ledge and countertop with evergreen boughs and everyone worked industriously on gifts for each other. It was a wonderful Christmas season, full of anticipation and joy.
Then the charity boxes started coming.
The first one felt like someone had doused me with a bucket of cold water. I managed to keep my composure until the skinny Santa who delivered it left my front porch, but then I burst into tears. We weren’t poor, I kept saying. We might be broke, but Christmas was well in hand.
The second box came two days later. It was left on the doorstep. I set it in the corner and ignored it.
When the third one came, it began to be funny. That’s when we started making jokes about setting up a cannon in the front yard and taking pot shots at bearers of charity boxes. I think the kids were relieved that Mom wasn’t in danger of slashing her wrists any more.
There were actually some pretty cool presents in the boxes, and it made for a jolly Christmas morning. But, I’ll tell you, when my kids talk about that long-ago Christmas, not a one mentions what came in the charity boxes. They all remember a simple or a home-made gift they got from someone in the family.
I still remember that my oldest boy gave me a sack of clothespins. Our dryer had died about six months before, and I was nursing my hoard of clothespins, trying to make them cover all four lines; but with two small children, it was hard. This teenage boy had seen my need, and from his slender means, he came up with the perfect gift. I don’t think I’ve ever been more delighted on Christmas morning.
Yes, Christmas was well in hand.
Return to The Neighborhood