December 23, 2016: I walked out of the apartment building with tears streaming down my face. My mom was sobbing; my rock-solid sister was visibly shaken. My dad, who always says the right thing, couldn’t find any words. The past ten minutes had changed us, and we would never be the same.
December 23rd is my favorite day of the year. It is the day that my family delivers Christmas to the families we adopt. We grew up poor, but my parents always found a way to help another family during the holidays. Even still, the best part of my holiday season is when my family (parents, sisters, kids and all) adopts a family or foster child in need. Part of the enjoyment comes from the shopping, wrapping and togetherness, but hands down, the absolute best part is the reaction from the families to whom we deliver the gifts; they are so grateful. It’s the kind of gratitude that most middle class families cannot even fathom.
Once we have found a family to adopt, we get a list of items that they need and want. The requests are the same every year – coats, shoes, underwear, and socks. Just the list is heartbreaking – they only want things that many of us take for granted. So we fill the necessities, and then some.
One year, we bought mattresses for an entire family after learning theirs were so worn the springs poked them at night. Another year we bought bikes for teenage boys who had never owned one. We have bought dozens of Christmas trees. Every family receives enough fresh fruit, vegetables and meat to make Christmas dinner and a few more thereafter.
The families almost always have a hand-drawn card for us, and the mothers thank us over and over. Then we go home, happy to help and spread cheer, and celebrate our traditional Christmas.
But the delivery on December 23, 2016, that was something. We encountered a family of eight, with two disabled parents and six children under ten years old. They lived on the third floor of a run-down, one-bedroom apartment, with crickets in all the halls. Their furniture included mattresses with only a sheet and folding chairs in the living room. The kids had no toys, there wasn’t even a kitchen table. Two older daughters shared one coat; one wore it on the way to school, the other on the way home. There are no words to accurately describe what we saw that day – this family had nothing.
So, in my broken high-school Spanish, I explained to this family that we were bringing them Christmas. Their eyes widened as we carried in the wrapped gifts and food. The father wept openly. The kids, seated properly on folding chairs, lit up with smiles. By the time we brought in the last box, the mother sobbed and asked, “¿Abrigos?” (coats). “Si, para todos” (yes, for all), I said. “Y ropa, zapatos, mantas y juguetes.” (and clothes, shoes, blankets and toys). She looked stricken, then grabbed my hands and held them close to her chest. “Gracias” (thank you), she said. “Nunca olvidare esti. Estas en mi Corazon para siempre.” I nodded, not understanding. We said goodbye and quietly left. Not the jovial exit we usually have.
As we somberly drove away, I googled what she said to us. It was, “I will never forget. You are in my heart forever.” Turns out, the same is true for me.
As I begin this holiday season, I can’t stop thinking about this family. They really are forever in my heart. It has made me want less things for myself and my family, and to help even more families. And it is even more important than ever that my kids understand the importance of helping others. The holidays really are about love.
What are some things you plan to do to spread love and cheer this season?