The Monday before Christmas was raw and, with a wind out of the north-west at 10 knots and a temperature of 20 degrees, it felt like the Arctic. The woman tugging at my sleeve was dressed in house slippers, sweat pants and a frayed T-shirt. “You got a card for me?” she asked. She had only a single front tooth, and there was no hair on the right side of her head. A conspicuous goiter swelled her neck below her chin. Pointing to the envelopes in my hand she said, “I’m in thirteen.”
I was delivering the $50 food cards that my church provides for needy families at Christmas. The gift cards that can be used at a nearby Acme Supermarket are better than food baskets because people get what they can eat and some treats to make the holiday special. We are given a list of those who most need them from the housing project office, and we prepare envelopes with a card and a holiday greeting for everyone on that list plus a few others known to individual parishioners. In addition to the food cards, we deliver toys from the US Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots, and also articles of new clothing selected by one of the residents of the housing project who knows the kids. The clothes are purchased with our church outreach funds.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have one for you. Did you sign up?”
“Nobody told me.” The distress in her eyes tore at my heart. “They gave me one last time.”
“Put something warm on and go over to the office and tell them you want to sign up for a card,” I said. “When they tell me to, I’ll get one for you.” I didn’t think she was a “welfare queen” or a boozer. No doubt there are one or two who work the system instead of working—we do our best not to subsidize those folks. Most all of the people on our list have a tough life working two or more low-paying jobs during the tourist season, and taking whatever work they can find during the winter months. For the severely disabled, and the frail elderly there isn’t much opportunity to work.
The reactions are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. One woman came running after me clutching the card I had just delivered. “I just have to tell you,” she said, “I just got back from Church of the Savior’s food pantry. I can’t eat a lot of what they have there, but this time they didn’t have any tea. I was feeling pretty bad not even having a tea bag in the house. Then you knocked at the door and gave me this. Now I can get some really good tea. Thank you.”
One of my colleagues said he’d delivered bags of toys and clothes to a young woman in her twenties with two kids and her eyes brimmed up with tears. All she said was “Oh, thank you.” But he could see that he’d just delivered the answer to a prayer. I delivered cards to elderly women, frail men, and a few younger people as well.
This year is worse than most for these folks. With the economy down, jobs are scarce. The food pantry shelves grow empty of basic staples—donations have been slower than normal. Some families are forced to choose between food and heat.
Support your local food pantry or food bank, and make a donation to Toys for Tots. There is someone out there in your community for whom a just little good tea will make it a Merry Christmas.