This was one of the most memorable Holidays I've ever had...
|One thanksgiving I heard on the local radio station that the Homeless Shelter in our town needed help with their Thanksgiving meal. They were serving dinner to anyone who needed a good hot meal for Thanksgiving day or just wanted to come and enjoy the day with others.
My family had already gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving the weekend before, so I decided I would volunteer to help. I had lived in this area all my life and I never knew we had a local shelter to help the homeless people.
I called the number from the radio announcement and the lady who answered was thrilled that I would volunteer my time at the Shelter. I offered to bring anything they needed to help out. The plans were made.
On Thanksgiving day, I arrived ready and excited to help these people whom I had never met. I peeled potatoes! When the Thanksgiving meal was ready, we started serving. There was such a variety of people, from children to the elderly, who were just so happy to have a hot meal. Each person was extremely grateful for each spoonful of food I served and thanked me with a huge smile. It was a great feeling!
After dinner while we cleaned up the dishes and left over food, someone started playing holiday songs on the piano and people began to sing along. Almost everyone was singing! Everyone was warm and their bellies were full of good food. It was such a great experience for me!
I've always had nice warm holidays with my family; I had never thought of homeless people. I never considered whether they had a hot meal to eat, a roof over their heads or even if they had any family at all. I felt so warm inside that day at the Shelter; it was such a good feeling. These people were so happy to have a good, hot meal and friendly companionship.
After this Thanksgiving experience, I was fired up and ready for more. I went to work the next day and talked to my boss about my experience at the Shelter; she too was very interested. We called the local newspapers and radio stations and put out a challenge to all of the area businesses to raise money for our town Shelter. It took off like wild fire! Companies raised and gave money to the Shelter. Local families donated clothing and food. The company I worked for at the time gave out frozen turkeys each Christmas and over 15 of those turkeys were given from our company alone!
I'll never forget this experience. It left a warm and very good feeling in me. You take for granted that you will always have your family right beside you for every holiday or that you'll have a roof over your head each day. These people were so happy just for that day. It was a very humbling experience.
But now that Thanksgiving was over, I began to wonder about Christmas. Will the people at the shelter have a Christmas? I made it my mission to make it a great one for them that year. I called the Shelter and asked if they had any children living there, and if so, whether they had a Santa Claus coming to the Shelter. The woman told me they had several children, but Santa was not coming. How sad.
So we (my husband, daughter and I) decided that we would bring Santa to them! My husband was going to be Santa Claus, while SMs and I borrowed homemade Elf outfits. Now we needed gifts. I told my mother, who at the time was a nurse at the local hospital, what we were planning. She relayed the news to her coworkers and suddenly we had tons of wrapped gifts supplied by the nurses and doctors. Wonderful!
We had the exact count of how many men, women and children were at the Shelter; it was Christmas Eve and Santa and his two elves were ready to roll! We didn't have a sleigh and 8 tiny reindeer, but we did have a Ford pickup loaded with gifts for the homeless.
People have their differences, but when you ride around on Christmas Eve dressed like Santa and two elves, people really change! We had people honking their horns and waving at us. It was so wonderful and fun!
We arrived at the Shelter. No one but the Shelter workers knew we were coming. The facial expressions of the parents was enough to make it worthwhile, but the children's faces were priceless. They were immediately amazed, overjoyed and thankful.
We went to the room with the Christmas tree in it. Santa sat down and started handing out gifts. The children were just so excited to be sitting in front of Santa receiving gifts. The parents sat there with tears in their eyes, staring at us and whispering "Thank you." I just smiled back and nodded my head. It was just such a wonderful feeling to be able to bring Christmas to these unfortunate people.
After many hugs and thank yous from the Shelter, we left and went to the high rise apartments where my grandmother stayed with many other elderly tenants. We knocked on every single door of the 5 floors, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
Little elderly women were hugging Santa, squeezing his cheeks and thanking him for stopping to see them. We gave each person a single candy cane and a hug from Santa. You would have thought it was a million dollars.
I'll never forget this one door Santa knocked on. A tiny voice said from inside said, "Who's there?" My husband said, "Santa Claus." There was no answer... silence. Then the door opened slowly; we saw that the room was completely dark behind the person. This tiny woman peeked out to look at who was at her door. When she saw it was Santa standing there... it was wonderful. We saw a huge smile cross this tiny woman's face; she was just so happy to see Santa. She hugged him for a long time and then whispered, "Thank you." I thought Santa was going to break down and cry. The elves were already choked up and holding back their tears.
We knocked on every door in this apartment building, saving my grandmother's for last. She was delighted to see us and extremely happy to hear about our evening. I'll never forget that holiday.
Since that year, the Shelter has had Santa come in every year on Christmas Eve, bringing joy and happiness to a place that is not always so. It was such a wonderful, fulfilling Christmas that year. Not because we received many store-bought gifts, but because we gave back something that cannot be bought. We showed strangers that love and caring for each other is what Christmas is all about.
* * * Happy Holidays! * * *