Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A "Good Christmas"

Since October 30, my mind has been buzzing with Christmas preparations. Not for me and Tyler, but for the 5,000 families who have or will be applying for various holiday sponsorship programs in Washington County. 30% of the people who live here cannot afford to, meaning their gross income does not cover basic living costs, let alone a packed Christmas season of presents, stockings, and homemade candies.

The family resource center I work at is doing the only thing we know how to do; taking applications for possible sponsorship, warning each eager-eyed parent that this form is not a guarantee, but a plea to the community to "help 4 the holidays."

The system gets complicated. A family writes down their contact information, if anyone in the home speaks English, each member of the family's sizes and desires for gifts, and whether they would like to pick up the presents and food at the center or have the gifts delivered to their homes. Explicit instructions are given--each gift idea should be limited to $25. I fan through the 200+ applications from families (we've only been accepting applications for 9 days) and see over and over the words "bike", "Ipod", "plasma TV". Then there are the parents who say "anything will do--I just want to give my children a good Christmas."

I cannot judge these families. They are the families that come monthly to our center, expressing gratitude after gratitude for the help they receive--school supplies, diapers, food, clothing, free dental care--they they could not make ends meet without us. Why do they want Ipods and plasma TVs? Because everyone else has Ipods and TVs. I'm sure in their minds a family who wants to sponsor another family is overflowing with the wealth and capacity to fill such requests from both their own children AND the needing family who has requested assistance.

But the sponsor side of the coin is its own world. A man who waited at the center for over 2 hours for free dental care watched as families poured through the door, asking for applications for the holiday sponsorship program. He came into my office and asked what was required to become a sponsor. Surely he is not planning on buying happiness for his own children this Christmas. He wants to give, though, and while a $25 gift per person for a family of 4 will stretch him thin, he desires the joy from the stretching.

Most sponsors have contacted me through email, specifying what kind of family they want to sponsor--"We'd like three families with 3-4 people in each, English speakers who live in this zip code, people who want us to come to their home to drop off the gifts...." Forget our system of first come, first serve. I flip through the pages of forms, hoping to find families who meet the sponsors' requirments.

Tyler and I went to the Salvation Army's holiday sign up on Saturday morning. This was a larger run on an agency then my center receives, as Salvation Army has helped families for Christmas for years and years. Everyone knows to get there early and stand in line until the doors open and 5 can come in at a time. I walked around in the rain, greeting the families. They saw my volunteer badge and wanted to know what I was going to do about the 10 people who'd cut in front of them, and didn't I care that they'd been here since 6 am, and that they were cold from the wind and rain. Oh how I care.

And oh how I wish they could know what a "good Christmas" really feels like--how it fills up every hole in your heart to sing songs of joy to the King of Kings with your family and friends, to watch children dress up as angels and wisemen, to look up at stars and ponder why The night was a holy night. To fall on your knees and hear the angels' voices.

Good Christian men rejoice with heart and soul and voice! A good Christmas is possible regardless of your bank account. "Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk withoutmoney and without price" (2 Nephi 9:50).