Accepting charity can be a hard thing for a woman to do. But when you’ve got kids to think about, there is no room for pride. Only four Christmases ago, I was a single mom. I was also broke and on Food Stamps due to divorce and the unmerciful effects of the recession.
The staff at the public elementary school my kids attended then had been very generous with us all year long. They gave my girls gently used school uniforms and new sneakers, underwear and socks. They provided us with the school supplies I had usually bought myself until then. They helped me sign up for free school lunches. And when holidays rolled around, the school secretary asked very tactfully whether I’d like to be included in the Christmas charity list. I didn’t even know there was one! I thought of my girls, then 5 and 8, and of the 3-item wish list they had dictated to me every year or written themselves up until then. They both still believed in Santa Claus and The Three Kings. I was happy I had always asked them to only write down three items although I would normally make sure they got more than that. A divorced mom is usually riddled with guilt even if she felt she made the best choice by leaving a relationship. I wanted my girls to have a good Christmas. And so I said yes, I wanted to be on the charity list.
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I filled out an application with the girls’ names and ages, and our address. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from someone in Charity for Change, an organization I loosely recalled signing a check to in previous years. They wanted to know what the best time would be to drop off our bag of Christmas presents the next Saturday.
The weekend came around and on Saturday at the exact time they had said, two smiling ladies wearing Santa hats knocked on the door of my small apartment. The girls were playing in the living room and squealed when they saw the bag of wrapped gifts with their names on them. I still get all choked up when I think of the feeling of gratitude that filled me at that moment. I hugged the grey-haired women who were volunteering their time to make our Christmas happier, and said “Thank you!” over and over. One of them handed me an envelope, and said: “Hopefully this will help with Christmas dinner!” It was a $75 gift card to a supermarket. That did it. I cried.
“What´s wrong, mami?” my eldest asked. I had no words. I hugged them both and realized how lucky we were.
Now that I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of charity and what a difference it can make—especially during the holidays—I don’t mindlessly write checks to charities anymore. I remind my kids of that very special Christmas and make sure we all participate in giving to families that may need a little or a lot of help. This year, my 12 year old filled 10 shoe boxes with gifts for Operation Christmas Child. We receive toys and toiletries for review year-round and we save a lot of them for this purpose. The shoe boxes are taken to school and distributed to families in need in other countries. What we can´t fit in a shoebox we take to toy drives in our city.
One Christmas, the Palm Beach Post, a publication I used to write for before the recession, posted videos of families or people in need, so that readers could choose one or more and make a donation. I watched the videos with my girls and we chose the families that had kids because they wanted to make the children smile.
Charity is no longer an abstract concept for my family. It’s something that touched me deeply because I never imagined ever needing it. And my children still remember my tears that day, and they now know why the bag of toys arrived at our door like that. That’s why now we make a point of giving and being grateful that we can do for others what they once did for us.