If you want to be humbled, come with me this Tuesday when I bring a Christmas gift from the members of my high school graduating class to a deserving student from our alma mater.
You can’t come with any preconceived notions about the person receiving the gift. Be prepared to feel tons better after you leave than you did going in. And get ready to have a memory that may very well change you.
I’m not really asking you to physically roll up to the house with me, but you can come with me in spirit. This is not my first Christmas visit of this sort, and it’s a story that never gets old.
For the past 10 years or so, my McKinley High School Class of 1972 (yes, I’m that mature) gathers a few dollars to present as a gift to a current student at McKinley or a needy family recommended by a classmate.
We generally seek a student who is doing the best that he or she can in the classroom while overcoming financial struggles at home. (These are not necessarily “A” students.) There were quite a few people in my high school class who once fit that description.
It has been my job to bring the gift to the child or to a family. And each time, the experience is something I can’t shake.
On one occasion, a grandmother living with her daughter and two grandchildren cried and hugged me when I brought the gift of several hundred dollars to them. The old woman had to sit down when she realized what she had in her hands. She cried. All I could think about was my grandmother who helped raise me.
The daughter hugged me, too, saying she didn’t think she was going to be able to get gifts for her children. A couple times, recipients would think out loud about how to use some of the money to help a sibling.
On one occasion, a young girl just kept spreading the money out on the sofa and then looking up at me with a big wide smile on her face. She kept repeating that she had never held that much money in her hands at one time. It was about $300. “I never thought that something like this could happen to me,” she said.
The grateful parent or guardians are often overwhelmed by the largesse, would plead with me to express their appreciation to my classmates.
There was a very sad moment, but it didn’t happen at a house. We wanted to give a financial gift to a young girl we had given a Thanksgiving package of a turkey, ham and food for a week.
The school counselor thanked us but said it would not be a good idea because the adults would probably take it from her the moment we left. Damn.
I bring the same message to the child: that we hope this gift helps you have a good Christmas, that you continue to do your best in school, and when you are an adult, please remember this and help someone else.
In some cases, the parent or guardian will make apologies about their living conditions. I assure them of the love of my classmates. Some of them lived in similar conditions as children and know that life can get better.
Sometimes, I watch those heart-warming television stories about people bringing gifts to a needy family, and the recipients break into tears. I get to feel what those givers feel every year. I have tried to convey to my wonderful classmates the feeling I get.
Ken, one of my classmates, has begged to come along. It will be good for him, and since he talks a lot, many more people will understand the meaning of giving.
Look, we know that our gifts are not life-changing. We just want our gift to give someone hope for a day, an hour, or even a few minutes that they are not alone.
As the little girl said, “I never thought that something like this could happen to me.”
That’s it. That’s it.
Edward Pratt, a south Louisiana freelance writer, can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.