Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1505215
A true story that just happened
A WHITE CHRISTMAS
London stole a quick glance at his watch; it was only quarter to noon and already he was exhausted. The Food Bank opened at 10 am as usual and already he had handled about 20 clients who had come in for one of the special “Christmas Basket” boxes. Another two hours, and it doesn’t look like we’ll get a break even for lunch, he thought.
He handed the completed form to the heavy-set woman who claimed to have four young grandchildren living with her and her husband, plus her elderly mother. That gave them seven in the family and qualified them for two family boxes, and two certificates for turkeys at the local grocery store. London thought, I bet the elderly mother doesn’t exist, I think she knows our guidelines and is playing us, but, still, if she says there are seven in the family, then there are seven.
“Take this over to Barbara in the corner desk,” he said, pointing to the supervisor who reviewed the applications and stamped them “Approved” or “Rejected”. “She’ll talk to you and explain the rest of the pickup routine.”
London looked up; the chairs in the room were still half-filled with people waiting to be helped. Most were bundled up against the cool Northern California weather which now looked like it was going to start to rain, but a few looked as if they could use a new jacket against the cold.
“Next,” he said, pulling his glasses down over his nose, “Who can I help next?”
A young girl, about 23, who was holding a fidgeting little boy on her lap, looked around, “I think it was this gentlemen here, he came in right after the last lady you talked to,” and pointed to an gray-haired man dressed in a pair of tan pants and wearing a heavy sweater over a flannel shirt.
“Sir,” London said, “Are you next?”
The man looked up at London, smiling, showing the gap where he was missing a tooth, “What?” he said, cupping his right hand behind his right ear, “Am I next?”
London raised his voice slightly, “Yes, sir, I think you are. Are you here for a Christmas Basket?” He thought, Most of the people who come here are on a very low income and not having a hearing aid was not exactly at the top of the list of “Things That Needed Done”. Specially when they didn’t have enough money to buy insurance for their car or a gallon of gas to get to the food bank once a month.
The man sat down in the chair across the table from London. Even from there London could detect a stale smell, the smell that usually came from one of the homeless clients, but this was a new client, for London didn’t recognize him.
“My name is London, are you here for the first time?”
“Yes, first time. I’ve never been here before, can I get a box of food?”
“We are taking applications for the Christmas baskets that we will be distributing on the 22nd,” London said. “But you can come in tomorrow for the regular monthly food box.”
“Then I can’t get anything today? I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.”
London looked closely at the man, who hadn’t shaved for several days, his thin white beard showed that, and he probably hadn’t had a shower in twice that many days. “Where are you living?” he asked.
“Where ever I can, I’m homeless. I’ve been living down by the creek by the lumber yard lately.”
“Are you not a regular client with the Food Bank?”
“No, I just heard about you yesterday.”
“Hold on a minute,” London said, “I’ll be right back.”
London pushed his chair back, took off his reading glasses so he could see clearly more than three feet away and walked over to Barbara’s cubical. Barbara was the supervisor for the interviewers and could decide if what London had in mind was allowable. He quickly explained what the situation was with the man and asked if they could throw a quick box together so he’d have some bread and a couple of cans of tuna and some veggies to take care of him until tomorrow’s regular distribution day.
“He’s never been in?” Barbara asked.
“He says no,” London replied.
“OK, go put together a small box, I’ll unlock the fridge and get the bread and some pastries, you get a box and put in some veggies and a couple of cans of fruit,” she said.
“Can you throw in a small carton of chocolate milk too? I know we had some of that last Friday.”
“Sure, good idea, London,” she said.
They quickly put together a small box and London carried it out to the man. “Here you go, this should hold you over until you can come in tomorrow for a regular box.”
“Thank you, thank you,” he said.
“Now, let’s get you filled out for a Christmas box,” London said, “What is your name?”
“Roger, Roger Mills,” he replied as London started filling in the form in ink.
It only took about two minutes and the application was finished.
“Take this in to Barbara and she’ll give you the rest of the schedule, the pickup place and time,” London said, pointing to Barbara’s cubical.
Roger thanked London and then said, “Uh, my shoes are shot, think you could help me there too?” and he held up a foot. He was wearing sneakers -- old, bedraggled ones -- and the side of one shoe was split from the toe halfway to the heel, allowing his stocking foot to show through. London could even see the skin of his foot where the stocking had worn away. “I checked at Salvation Army and they didn’t have anything, do you?”
“We don’t have shoes or clothing here,” London said, “but I can give you a voucher for the Catholic Church’s second hand store for a pair of shoes, you know where Sacred Heart Thrift is?”
“Yes, in the shopping center by the bank?”
“That’s the place.” London pulled out a voucher, filled it in with Roger’s name and SSN and asked, “what shoe size?”
“Nine and a half.”
London wrote that in, signed the voucher and gave it to Roger. “There ya go, take this to Sacred Heart and give it to them. I added a couple of pair of socks to the voucher too...”
“Thank you,” Roger said, folding the voucher over three times and stuffing it in his shirt pocket, “thank you very much,” and he picked up the box that held his dinner and breakfast and left the food bank.
* * * *
The following day was distribution day for the regular monthly box and London was once more swamped with clients. “Next, who can I help next?” he said to the room and pulled out another interview form.
A client walked into the cubical and London looked up, “Ah, Roger, I see you made it back. Sit down, let’s get you a regular box of food today.”
London quickly filled out the application and handed Roger the pickup slip and said, “Remember, one box of food a month, but you can come any of the other days we are open for the bag of bread and pastries we have. You can get that any number of times a month, whenever you need it.”
“Thank you,” Roger replied.
“Uh, did you get those shoes at Sacred Heart Thrift?” London asked.
“No, they didn’t have them in my size, so I’ll have to go back in a couple of days and see if anything new comes in.”
“Nothing in your size? Well, let me see if I can help you. Up the old highway about a mile is a place called ‘Trash and Junk’, take this note there and ask for Wanda, tell her London sent you, sometimes she has stuff that she can let you have.” London scratched out a note and handed it to Roger.
“Thank you again,” Roger said, and left to go to the pickup window.
Geeze, I hope he finds those shoes, it’s going to rain tonight and he needs some decent shoes or his feet will freeze in this weather, London thought.
* * * *
Today was a slow one. The clients had all been taken care of and London was chatting idly with Toni, the other volunteer interviewer when the front door to the Food Bank opened and Roger walked in.
“Hi Roger,” London said, “What can we do for you today?”
“Wanda didn’t have any shoes that fit me.”
“No? Geeze..Barbara, is there any place else that we can go to get Roger some shoes?”
Barbara looked up from the report she was filling out. “Sacred Heart didn’t have any?”
“Not in his size.”
“Does he still have the voucher?”
Roger nodded yes and brought the folded paper out of his pocket.
“Just scratch out Sacred Heart and write in ‘ETC’, the senior center’s used store down the street, they should have something,” Barbara said.
London did exactly that, then initialed the change and handed it back to Roger. “I hope this does it for you, I’m sorry you’ve had such a time finding shoes... Maybe this will do it.”
“Thank you again,” Roger said, refolding the voucher as he walked out the door.
Ten minutes later Roger strode back through the front door. The lobby was still empty of other clients and he looked at London, a smile on his face.
“LOOK!” he said as he neared London, “SHOES!” and he held up a foot, showing off what looked like a brand new pair of sparkling white tennis shoes. “Now my feet will stay dry and warm,” he said laughing, “and maybe they’ll last me six months. Thank you so much for helping me find shoes. They are my Christmas present!”
With that Roger turned and almost floated out the door, for him it was a "Merry White Christmas.”