Friday, January 29, 2010

What a Christmas present!

I meant to post this much earlier; in fact, right after Christmas. So here’s a real neat belated Christmas story.

My friend Linda and her family have a fun tradition on Christmas Eve. They drive around and look at houses with fancy Christmas lights, then they all go out for pie at some greasy spoon. Here’s the fun part: while their tab for the pie might be around $10 or so, they leave an enormous tip for the waitress, maybe $50. They leave before the tip is “discovered” as a nice anonymous gift to a different waitress every year.

So right after Christmas, I emailed my friend and asked her how her annual mega-tip pie excursion went, and this was her reply (posted with permission):

We actually broke tradition and didn't go out for pie this year. We were all tired and didn't want to go back to town. However, the reason for being worn out was a really, really special.

We adopted a family that was in desperate need of basically everything. I heard about them when I was doing some other charity work and presented the idea of giving this family a Christmas instead of us. We are blessed and have everything we could possibly need, so why not take the money we'd spend on gifts for one another and give this family a Christmas to remember?

So I went SHOPPING. And I mean SHOPPING. I needed THREE carts! I bought everything a young family with children might need for Christmas breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And then I decided that wasn't enough... I bought them enough food for another week (hamburger, chicken, etc., etc.). Then I bought non-perishables by the cart-load. I got soups and pastas and rice and nutritious cereals and canned beans and canned fruits and canned veggies.

I was on a roll and having the time of my life! I'm serious! I don't think I've ever felt this great! I felt like dancing while pushing the cart! LOL

Then came the fun part..... I'd gotten the sizes of clothing and shoes for the little girls and I went shopping for them! Oh, that was FUN! I got coats and shoes and dresses and tights and pants and undies and bows for their hair.... (these little girls were showing up at Early Intervention with no socks, shoes, or coats when it was 18 degrees outside three weeks ago!) Then I bought them toys that were developmentally appropriate plus a couple of dolls and some stuffed animals. I also got shape sorter tub toys because I remember how much Emily loved those at age three (one girl is three and the other is nearly six, but both are developmentally delayed – the three-year-old still doesn't have speech and just started walking). For the mother I got her a really warm, cozy robe and slippers, new bedding, and a $50 gift card to Wal-Mart. (There is no dad in the picture.)

Then we showed up on their doorstep and delivered all of the wonderful stuff! Emily and I wrapped the toys and clothing for the kids. I didn't wrap the coats and shoes because I wanted them to have those right away. I tried to get Jim to wear a Santa costume but he drew the line at that. LOL

The mother looked stunned. Just…shellshocked. She couldn't even speak. We just kept carrying in boxes and bags after boxes and bags of food and more food and gifts, wrapped and unwrapped. Jim, Emily and I each made at least four trips each. I kept saying to the mom, “This is perishable so you need to put it in the fridge right away” (there was milk, juice, meat, fruit, eggs, etc., etc.) and she just sat and stared so I put it all in the fridge. Talk about a bare fridge prior to me opening it – and when we walked out it was no longer bare!

If she manages the food well there's enough meat for probably ten days and enough non-perishables (such as beans and rice, etc.) for another month at least.

I found this family via a circuitous route. I was volunteering with the 4H group and needed to find a family for our group to sponsor. I was also donating some stuff for Coalition for Kids. I had the idea to ask at the Coalition for a family for our 4H group to sponsor. They had two families that were in very dire straits. They gave me the background on both and I was supposed to choose. Hmmm. How on earth to choose one over the other? I picked the one that seemed the most desperate, at least on paper. After hanging up the phone with the coordinator I just stood there and felt terrible that I knowingly left another family behind. I immediately called Jim but couldn't reach him to get his okay for my plan, but that didn't slow me down because I know his heart. I called the coordinator back and told her that OUR family would sponsor the other family in need. I thought she was going to cry!

We all had SO much fun with this. We have always given a lot to the local food band and Meals on Wheels, etc. I write a lot of checks all year long but especially this time of year.... but this felt SO much better. Maybe because it's personal? That's probably it.

So, there's the whole story. It was truly a life-changing experience. It's one thing to write a check and help from a distance. It feels entirely different to see the people you're helping. Both are wonderful and I'll continue writing checks whenever I can give, but the hands-on is just so... MOVING.

So now you know why we were tired. Well, *I* was tired, LOL. Plus I needed to work on pies and rolls because we were having company on Christmas so it all came together to keep us home. Someone didn't get their gigantic tip, but a family got a whole lot more! Yep, we're planning to do it again next year!

Is it any wonder I’m blessed to call this woman a friend?


  1. Hi Patrice,

    We live in a remote mountain community where people like the family that your friend helped are very common. Believe it or not, some are living in homes/shacks without simple amenities like water or electricity. There are even some living way back in the woods who live in caves. It sounds unbelievable, but it's true.

    Here's the real shocker ... this community is also a retirement haven for very well-off retirees from the big city. The contrast could not be more severe.

    We're somewhere inbetween, up against the edge of being one of the poor folks actually (according to the government, anyway).

    We do what we can, clearing brush, cleaning up yards and getting in firewood for widows. We participate in the local "Christmas Basket" and "Christmas Shoebox" type of activities.

    I wish I could say that I know of one of our well-off retiree couples who could or would or has done what your friend did. Maybe there is somebody like that but they don't toot their own horn. I hope so.

    What I see, though, is most of the ones helping out are barely beyond the edge of poverty themselves, like us. Isn't that the way it is?

    I will say that local businesses, like the little Mom and Pop grocery store, and the local hardware store, and the little cafe are VERY generous whenever someone comes around asking for donations for one worthy cause or another. Because of the downturn in the economy these businesses are all hurting. But, they still give until it hurts some more. God bless them.


  2. No doubt this kind of charity makes the giver feel good, but one wonders at the devastation it must wreak on the self-respect and motivation of the recipient.

  3. Patrice,

    You're making me want to cry reading this. We have a bad situation in my family and it's such that no one can really help out my relatives until they help themselves. At last estimate, they are $40,000 in debt. The husband works, and the wife makes their children (about 15 and 14) work as well and takes what they earn. Both are a few fries and a hamburger short of a happy meal.

    They live in my grandma's house and they took care of her until she passed away last year. They can't afford anything else and my Grandma brought the money in and the wife squandered it all. They justified to us that "it was all for Grandma," which was bull as Grandma spent the last two years of her life bedridden and on hospice. After her death, we found out that the Aunt took out a $10,000 loan in my Grandma's name while grandma was bedridden. We feel like whenever we help them we're both enabling the situation and that they're not grateful for what we do for them in the first place. Currently, the wife is using Facebook to manipulate others into giving them money for basic necessities...even though they spend $100 a month on electricity, and have $150 a month cable, internet, and phone and a big screen TV. Today, they called this morning wanting a ride to the bank to get money for gas, even though it'd be a 100 mile round trip for us and my Aunt and Uncle live around the block from them. When my Aunt gave them some gas, they were rude to her demanding where she was. I would like to tell the wife to her face "SCREW YOU," and throw them out of the house that way all my grandparents work wouldn't go to waste. My mom was very upset for the morning about that phone call.

    Thank you for listening. I needed to get that off my chest.

  4. Quedula, since the recipients signed up to be sponsored, I'm assuming their self-respect could handle it.

    - Patrice

  5. Or they had already lost it, Patrice?

  6. Quedula,

    I think you are mixing self-respect up with a selfish kind of pride that blocks God's blessings and hurts others.

    It is not wrong to ask for help when you need it and it is not a loss of self-respect to accept it.

    Our self-respect is/should be based on God's love of us. He valued us enough to die for us! It should not be based on how much we have or if we can stand on our own without help from others.

  7. Quedula, are you trying to find someone to blame for this family's loss of self-respect? Would you rather them go hungry and cold for the sake of their pride? The facts are that this family had some very basic needs, and another family chose to meet those needs. How can you spin this into a bad thing?

  8. Anonymous. I am certain that for the vast majority of people, be they believers or non-believers, self-respect comes from fending for oneself and one's dependants.
    CCR. No I am not trying to blame anyone. I did not even know, as you seem to, that the family HAD lost self-respect. I was just trying to indicate a likely result of this type of ostentatious giving. In the normal course of things charity is best performed anonymously or through some independent organisation. This offers the best chance of preserving the self-respect and motivation of the recipient.
    As Alexander Pope, the 18th.C English poet and Christian philosopher said "do good by stealth and blush to find it fame".

  9. Is that the British way quedula? I think anonymous may have it right. When people face trouble not brought on their own behavior, people get pleasure from helping out. Tis a hell of thing, this love your neighbor as yourself thing. I know that is confusing to a non christian but TOLERANCE will see us through.

  10. Lloyd, I don't know if it is the "British" way. All I am saying is; yes, love your neighbour, and get pleasure from helping out, but at the same time take care to preserve the recipient's self-respect as much as possible..