It’s not everyday that you get to do something truly special. The kids and I had the opportunity to share Christ’s love at the beginning of this Christmas week. First, some backstory…
When I started working at my firm (almost 11 years ago!) I supported the Litigation Department. Dana, the Director of the group, had been providing Christmas gifts to children in need for over 15 years by the time I joined the firm. The catalyst for this annual tradition was cool! He was working on case with an attorney. When the case settled, there was about $5,000 in fees remaining and some uncertainty over who they should go to. The attorney suggested that she and Dana put the funds into an account to purchase Christmas gifts for needy kids. Specifically, they would sponsor a Christmas party for a local “receiving home” – a center where kids who are removed from their homes reside until they can enter the foster care system.
The first year that I worked with Dana, I went along with several members of the Litigation Group to be elves to his Santa. We handed out candy canes to the kids as they came into the party and got to select a few gifts from the tables of toys, clothing, sports equipment, and other treats. One of the touching things I witnessed was several kids choosing gifts for their siblings, parents, or grandparents. They obviously wouldn’t have the money or opportunity to shop for gifts, so they used this chance to pick out a gift for a loved one instead of taking something for themselves. It was painfully sweet.
Ten years later, the tradition has evolved. Dana is now retired, but our firm still supports his gift giving. As December rolled around, my team knew it was time to print and cut out the ornaments for the “Christmas Tree Toy Drive” and hang them on our gigantic lobby tree. The ornaments have a gender and age range, so employees can select a gift that’s appropriate for a particular child. This year, we asked folks to purchase a backpack or large bag and fill it with items that kids (mostly teenagers actually) who are on their own would need: basic toiletries, a blanket, cozy socks or slippers, etc.
Wisely, one of our directors suggested we collect money, for those who wanted to contribute but didn’t have time to purchase the backpack and supplies to fill it. So, I did. It was slightly awkward to tell folks – “If you need to write a check, please make it out to Kelsey Bonilla.” Good to be trustworthy!
My elves (Sienna and Mateo) and I collected the donated funds on Monday and headed out to purchase 30 backpacks and fill them with goodies. We’d already collected nearly 20 filled backpacks and needed another 30 to cover the anticipated number of kids. A marathon afternoon of shopping ensued. The kids made the shopping and decision making process more challenging, but we made it! Just around 5:00 p.m. we returned to the office to assemble the backpacks. Sienna and Teo “helped” – but mostly drew on the white board in the conference room while one of the ladies on my team and I assembled the gifts.
Tuesday morning, the kids and I met Dana, his wife, and two other elves from our office at 8:00 a.m. to pack up the truck. We then caravanned down to the first of two locations.
We spent most of the day at the second, larger facility. We set up the backpacks and other gifts on tables by category around the room. A pizza party (with the largest pizzas I’ve ever seen!) rounded out the festivities. I spent a fair amount of time reminding Teo not to run around the room, please be quiet, calm down, etc. But, I think they still got that we were doing something helpful for others. I was pleased that they never asked for any of the gifts, though Sienna was fixated on a couple cute stuffed animals and greatly concerned that they wouldn’t be selected. She was greatly relieved when they were.
From my perspective, the day was full of poignancy and painfully tender moments. First of all, I tried to prepare myself for the fact that these kids have come from troubled circumstances. Even so, I was unprepared. The pain and struggle was obvious on the faces of these young people. I was humbled by their strength.
The dynamic sometimes feels awkward. You can see pride on some kids. They don’t want to “need” these strangers to help them. But, mostly, the kids are appreciative. They say “thank you” for every kind gesture. I find myself thanking them back. Thanking them for the opportunity to serve and love them.
Watching my fellow elves, it was moving to see people want to share their love and care to directly. Women pointed out possible gift choices and helped kids find their sized sweatshirts. The men commented on the boys’ favorite sports teams based on their apparel. We echoed “Merry Christmas” to entering and departing guests.
Teo started to get especially unruly toward the end of the party, so I held him in my lap and we cuddled. I was hyper aware of my display of maternal love to my little boy, in a room full of children without their mothers this Christmas season.
I’d originally planned to bring Sienna with me for the shopping trip and to be elves at the parties, and have Teo go to school. Dennis and I had a misunderstanding and he told the preschool that Teo wouldn’t be there this week. I knew I could’ve told them we changed our minds, but I took it as a sign that Teo should come along too. He was too young to truly appreciate what we were doing. However, a few of the teenagers noticed him at the party. They smiled and commented to me, “He’s cute.” He turned out to be a sweet distraction. He and Sienna made the party feel more family oriented and relaxed. Although he may not have gotten a lot out of the day, maybe that’s not why he was meant to be there.
I’m hoping that this can be an annual tradition for me and the kids. I’m so grateful for the loving people who started this tradition 27 years ago and appreciate them letting us help. I’m sure we’ll be more “help” as the kids get older!