Experiencing a Christmas miracle
Christmas miracles come when you least expect them! This week started out like any other in our office. It’s approaching year end, we have less than 100 days until the annual campaign closes, we have 2 major fundraising events on the near horizon, the agency funding cycle is about to begin … just your usual load of organized chaos and structured stress!
Amidst all the other facets of our world, lies the Christmas Clearinghouse. Each year for as long as anyone can remember, we manage a clearinghouse of the more than 40 programs and organizations that provide Christmas assistance throughout our ten counties. We collect the information and share it with those in need. We help to manage duplication of services among the various organizations participating. We match families to the programs according to their child’s age. It is a robust project that starts in early September and runs through the end of the year. It is tedious work with an abundance of data entry, yet it is rewarding because we understand the important role that it plays. We want every child, no matter the age, to have a smile on Christmas morning. This is our role in ensuring that happens. The hardest part of the project is not the exhaustive data entry, it is actually the handful of calls we typically receive once all of the programs are closed. It’s the last minute, somewhat frantic voices on the line that can really be tough to hear.
It’s usually a family that had a health crisis or unexpected job loss in the last month before the holiday. It’s the family who found out their landlord is selling the house they rent and they have to move by the end of December. Sometimes it is a parent or even custodial grandparent (we are inundated with these calls!) who is living at the margin but really thought they could find a way to manage a little Christmas cheer for the kids. As Christmas looms closer they realize that they just can’t squeeze out the extra to make it happen. So the calls come to our office and sadly we have to tell them that all of the programs have maxed out and closed. It is such a tough conversation and it makes us want to just reach through the phone with a hug and find a way to make it right. It is Christmas after all.
The last several years we have found a way to deliver that help. We have partnered with local churches and individuals to meet these last minute requests and overflow needs. It wasn’t an abundance of gifts, but it was consistently a few gifts for each child to ensure that Christmas happened in their home. The list of names was always manageable and somehow, it always worked out. Each year we stood back and smiled at how this little bit of Christmas magic came together. This year the list was growing longer than usual, it was riddled with teens (always a challenge to match), and the stories were intensely sad to hear. As a staff we have been struggling a bit, wondering how we would pull this off. We were concerned that this might be the year where we have to turn away a true need, a sad last minute story, a real crisis.
As the concern weighed on my heart I decided to do what anyone in the modern era might do to solve a problem — I took to social media! On my own personal page I shared the dilemma and asked if anyone was interested in helping out a bit. I figured it was worth a shot, what could it hurt? If I found two or three friends who were still looking for a way to spread a little cheer then it would be a great step toward solving the problem. I posted my thoughts, then turned back to my desk to focus on another task. And then it happened. The ding of the phone … and then another and another. Each one like the ringing of the miraculous Christmas bell. Each one representing someone in my life who heard the call and wanted to help. It wasn’t just my own inner circle of closest friends. It was a wide spread net of those who had touched my life in some facet – some going back 30 years. Some wanted to donate on the website, some were sending checks, some were making arrangements to shop and drop off donations. Gifts came from as far as California and North Carolina. They were my former teachers, elementary school friends, professional acquaintances, neighbors and former co-workers. There were such heartfelt messages that I couldn’t stop the tears. My heart was so full that it was overflowing through my eyes and down my cheeks. For the next four days the gifts came in. They were gifts given so freely and with such true thought and consideration that it is difficult to fully describe. The outpouring of generosity and spontaneous and sincere good will was amazing. For me personally it became a journey of the many faces that have been a part of my life in different seasons of my life. New friend, old friends — there was no defined demographic to explain the response — it was just kind-hearted human beings coming together to do their part. They didn’t ask questions, they didn’t want justification, they just wanted to help.
I will spend the greater part of the weekend in my office playing catch up because the Christmas miracle became so big and so tremendous that it was a distraction. A distraction of the very best kind with the most perfect timing. I won’t be mad for even a minute as I sit at my desk this weekend and do all of the things I didn’t accomplish amidst the excitement of this project. I had the privilege of witnessing an honest to goodness, real life Christmas miracle. What a beautiful reminder to always be kind and always be aware that people have a story you may never know. This was a moment to realize how many lives we each touch and how many beautiful people reciprocate that touch in our own lives. We don’t have to always know the one in need and we aren’t particularly entitled to delve into their story. Sometimes we need to just reach out in love and believe that we have been gifted with the opportunity to truly make a difference. It really does take a village, and this week I have been abundantly and indescribably blessed by mine. Merry Christmas!
Stacy DeCicco is executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.