Charitable assignment from my civic group at Christmas
| It was my task as a Jaycee Woman to administer the project of sponsoring a needy family for Christmas. My job was to find a family, identify the needs, bring them to the organization at a meeting, collect the goods, and make a timely delivery. I contacted an appropriate social worker and was given a family from the county. I was given the man’s name, was told he had a wife and two sons, and got an address.
On my day off, I went hunting in an unfamiliar part of the county, and couldn’t find them. I got directions, but they weren’t in the abandoned house with posted signs. I figured I was wrong. I went to a country store where I asked for the family by name. I lucked out. The store had local employees who were familiar with the vicinity. They knew the name. I was told they moved around a lot, sometimes weekly, squatting on other people’s property. They gave me directions to the last known location, so I followed them.
This place was also boarded up and posted, but there was smoke from the chimney. So I turned around and went back, pulling into the driveway. No one was in sight. It was cloudy and cold. I got out and went up to the front door. The porch scared me. I was afraid I’d fall through the rotten boards. No one answered my loud knocks on the door. No one was even driving down the road.
I was determined to find these people. I went around to the side. There were fish heads in the pathway. Apparently someone had been fishing and had thrown the scraps from cleaning right out in the yard. Burlap loosely covered the front door and was flapping in the breeze. I knocked and knocked and shouted their names, but no one came. I started walking away when some short woman opened the door. She claimed she hadn’t heard me, but she invited me in.
Inside the wood stove was fired up. I thought I would die in the heat. Flies were buzzing everywhere. Frozen TV dinners were stacked and thawing on the counter. I could see the bed from the kitchen doorway. They had furniture, but apparently were living in just a few rooms of this big house. The 13 year old was at school, the father was at work, and the 17 year old was there with her. He had a learning disability and was finished with school.
After I told her who I was, and what I was doing, she told me all her life’s problems, intimate health details. I could tell she was accustomed to dealing with welfare and charity people. She played up to sympathy. She didn’t know sizes for clothing for her sons or husband, and listed the things they needed most. She took my phone number, and that night her husband called me back with sizes.
I told the story the next day at work. One of the girls in the office recognized his name, saying he worked with her mother. She promised to check him out for me. My boss said they would donate some things from the store from a special promotion that didn’t really cost them anything (coffee mugs, umbrellas). I passed along the info at the next meeting, and gifts started pouring in, including cash for groceries.
Before Christmas I carried a few ornaments, lights, and other decorations so that they could get ready in advance and promised I’d be back Christmas Eve. I was surprised to see they had already cut a tree, and had it decorated and lit. They were getting charity from somewhere else. (I have no idea where they were getting electricity.)
Meanwhile my office mate reported back that the man missed work a lot because he did a lot of drinking and fighting, and he wasn’t well thought of at work. I was feeling resentful of the two adults who were losers and wasteful and couldn’t fend for themselves better. But I didn’t think the kids should suffer because their parents were non-productive and had no pride.
I collected household goods, toss pillows, clothing, slippers, sweaters for the boys, second hand clothes for the woman, flannel shirts for the man. I wrapped them and labeled them. I went grocery shopping and bought a turkey, the usual canned vegetables, gravy, instant potatoes, rolls, prepared pies, cookies, nuts, milk, and fresh fruit. I even bought a throwaway roasting pan, aluminum foil, and Christmas napkins. I had my car loaded up.
Christmas Eve was Sunday. I was on security duty at church that Sunday. The nursery was in an attached but separate building. In the downtown area, they were afraid of people wondering in during the service, while the nursery doors were closed and disturbing sleeping children or attacking the sitters. So we took turns just sitting in that hallway to turn people away before getting to the children.
That Sunday the preacher was going to do a special on Joseph. Everybody talks about the mother and baby, but poor Joseph gets overlooked. He had a pretty big, and difficult, role in that nativity story, so the pastor was going to act it out. I missed it, but I saw him in costume going in last. As soon as church was out, I was going to take off for the far part of the county.
It was another overcast, chilly day. I still had my misgivings about being charitable to these undeserving parents, but I intended to fulfill my obligations to my club. This time the yard was cleaned up and so was the living kitchen. There were some other gifts in the house. I had to carry armful by armful of stuff up to the house. No one was there but her. She didn’t help with anything. It took me about ten trips up the slight hill from the drive. (I had included my old turntable for the kids.) I explained what groceries were there, and what would need to be handled first.
When I was all done, I wished them a good Christmas and turned to leave. She ran out into the yard after me, and gave me a big hug with tears in her eyes.
“You’ve made Christmas for my family.”
“You’re welcome. I hope you enjoy it.”
I got in my car and left. Suddenly, the weather changed. The sky turned from gray to blue. The sun came out, and I was flooded with warmth. My heart was light, and the Christmas spirit was on me. It was a beautiful day. Whether they deserved help or not, I had done the right thing, and so had the jaycee women.