Make a happy holiday

December 7, 2016

givingHomeless families really suffer in the Bay area. It’s expensive to live here and if parents need child care so they can work, it’s nearly impossible. Add to that women and children who become homeless due to domestic violence and, well, the problem is staggering. And not just in my city.

So the other day we packed up three boxes of toiletries, new sweatshirts, gloves and other things for children and adults and brought them over to a charity that serves homeless families. We like this nonprofit because its effective in returning homeless people to long-term self-sufficiency.

The drop-off point is a secure, woman-only facility (read ‘domestic violence shelter’)  so M unloaded the boxes and I dragged them through the front door. As I stood waiting for a receipt, I talked with one of the staffers about the holidays.

“How many kids are in residence and are they taken care of for Christmas?” I asked.  She explained that 20 children were currently in residence and that some families were “adopted” for Christmas and others were not, especially those that came in closer to Christmas Day. Besides, “adoption,” the organization provides holiday meal gift baskets.

givingWill these families have a happy holiday? 

“We don’t want any family to go without a holiday,” I told her, “so let us fill the gap. Even if it’s last minute we can take care of Christmas for some of those families that haven’t been adopted.” Walking back to the car I thought about those families. I could almost feel their sadness and how hopeless this holiday season must feel.

Explaining the situation to Michael I started to cry. “Imagine what we could do if we had fu ** k you money,” I said through my tears. (If you don’t know, fu *** k you money insulates you so much you can tell anyone to fu *** k off, especially cranky employers. Of course, being retired, I haven’t anyone to say FO to, but I like the concept of having that much freedom.)

My husband started the car, and then casually asked, “Why don’t we take the money we were going to spend on the big summer trip we just started planning and donate it?”

My eyes widened. “All of it?” This was not a small amount of money.

“All of it,” he said. “I consider the money spent already, so why not? It would feel obscene to take yet another big trip with the country in this awful place and people suffering.”

My hard-working husband allows himself few luxuries, but one is first-class vacations.  We had planned to take two weeks in the UK this August. I really wanted to go. In fact, it was my idea.

But I wanted these families to have a happy holiday more.

“Ok,” said. “Let’s do it.”

Instantly I began thinking about the best way for the families to get maximum benefit out of our donation.

As a warm-up, I donated some money for boarding of a sweet dog that a homeless man could no longer take care of. A Good Samaritan in my town had been helping the man but it was clear that he could no longer care for his dog. He signed the dog over to her and it was being boarded while she found the dog a forever home. With her permission, I called the vet and put some money on account. I did that in remembrance of our Little He, Tinker, Puddin’ and all of our very lucky pets on both sides of the Rainbow Bridge, including Riley.   Then I was ready to do the big stuff.


The need is great

I spoke with a manager at the homeless services agency about what families might need. She also pointed out that no one ever adopted single people who have been placed in independent housing, and that broke my heart. I suggested that we reconnect when she had a better idea of who was not going to get adopted and that we’d fill that gap then. (After all, I wanted others to have a chance to feel good by donating holiday items, too!)

At the time of our call, the two-county agency had some 150 people who were not going to have the fixings for a holiday meal or a present. Some 35 were families housed in shelters. We discussed the kind of gift cards domestic violence victims needed and she told me that many left their homes quickly without underwear or shoes. A gift card to Walmart or Target would go a long way to providing the basic necessities they were forced to leave behind.

It was a sobering conversation, but also a joyous one. I knew we could help make a happy holiday for these folks and that the agency was working hard to help them regain their footing. It seemed like so little for such a big problem, but it was the best we all could do. In a world of increasing hatred, we could still put a little kindness out there.

And so can you.

givingWhat you can do in your own community

I am certain that there are similar organizations and people with the same kind of needs in your community.  And I know you want a way to lend a hand. It’s not too late.  Even just a little will help. So here are some ideas:

Call domestic violence agencies or organizations helping the homeless and ask what they need.

Coffee mugs, glasses, towels, dishes are all helpful for those going into transitional housing. These don’t have to be new, but they do have to be in good condition.  

Gift cards in any amount for a Walmart, Target or K-Mart will allow parents to buy necessities or holiday gifts for children. Our agency likes to get cards in amounts no larger than $30 or $35.

A bunch of coloring books and crayons, puzzles and toys for toddlers are always appreciated. So are diaper and baby supplies–they’ll be used, no fear.

Buy some new climate- appropriate casual wear: sweatshirts, t-shirts, gloves, scarves, hats are always useful for homeless agencies to give out. 

I went through my closet for coats, jackets and appropriate clothes–new or in very good condition–good stuff–that I wasn’t going to wear. Shoes in almost-new condition are also welcomed.

A holiday meal gift basket of non-perishables: canned yams and green beans, canned gravy and cranberries, packaged dinner rolls, a sack of potatoes, apple cider, a roasting pan, holiday napkins and plates and a $20 gift card for turkey and dessert is an awesome donation. Nothing perishable.

Things to avoid: junk food, junk food gift cards, coffee cards, perishables.

Oh, did I mention that this is SO MUCH FUN? It really is! In fact, giving is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

For those who don’t know, M and I were college sweethearts who married young and divorced after 9 years. We were apart 26 years and then reunited and remarried. It’s been seven years now and we’ve had a beautiful second marriage.

I’m pretty sure that the Universe got us back together to challenge us to be our best selves. I suspect M has been more successful at that than I have. I’m still a work in progress.  But giving? M’s got that one down pat.

giving“Are you trying to buy a seat in heaven?” I asked him with a laugh.

“Just making sure there’s not one waiting in hell,” he said.

Later, telling my late girlfriend’s daughter about it, she responded, “I don’t think M. has to worry about getting a seat in heaven. My mom’s saving one for him.”

And so this is Christmas, just like John Lennon sang.  Want to hear the song before you start your holiday help for the homeless? Here it is.

39 comments on “Make a happy holiday
  1. Oh Carol that warmed my heart so much. I love how generous you are both being. It’s one thing to give a little, but you are taking it to a whole new level and I think you’ve both earned a ‘get out of Hell free’ ticket this Christmas!

  2. Adriana says:

    Honestly, this post is simply amazing. I enjoy the little things in life and you said it all.
    Thank you for this moment 🙂

  3. renee says:

    Carol, what a wonderful thing you two are doing. And so glad you found each other again. Hugs and love to you.

  4. Anna Palmer says:

    This is wonderful. I am so glad you and Michael walk this earth. We always sponsor families for the holidays and year round. Your list is a wonderful resource.

  5. Sheryl says:

    What an incredible thing you’ve done! Your kindness will make so many people so happy.

  6. That’s wonderful Carol. We have the same kind of mission that I love to give to here in SC. I just sent them a huge load of things when we moved, but this gives me a few ideas for my own neck of the woods.Thanks

  7. Angela says:

    What a lovely post! You and your husband are clearly kind-hearted, generous people. You’ve given me a lot to think on.

  8. This is one of the reasons why I like my church so much! We give to the community. We help with homeless people, foster kids, and even kid in jail.

  9. Andrea Bates says:

    What a beautiful piece. Thank you so much for sharing, Carol, and more importantly for what you’ve done for these people who need it the most.

  10. Amanda says:

    Aw such a touching story! I really wish more people were like this! Things are really tight this year for us (high risk pregnancy + new baby + a car that needs repair = way too many bills and not enough money) so unfortunately we are unable to give but the second i get extra I love to lend that hand. You just never know when you will need it in return!

  11. Amber Myers says:

    I love this post so much. We always try to give back. It’s so important to show kids the value of giving back!

  12. We are “all in this together” Carol….and you exemplify that truth. Thank you, dear friend…

  13. What a wonderful way to be able to celebrate the holidays. I am part of a small group of women who get together each week,and we do charitable work whenever we can.We call ourselves Sweet Charities. It’s so fulfilling to know we’ve helped others throughout the year.

  14. I learned the art of giving from my mom. Love your post.

  15. Holly says:

    This brought me to tears!! I grew up the child of missionaries so sometimes it’s very hard for me enjoy living in America now knowing how much people suffer back in Haiti and the Dominican Republic :(. God will bless you for this! Praying you win a vacation package or something!

  16. Lisa J Lewis says:

    What an important reminder right before the holidays! I am very inspired after reading your post. Thank you!

  17. Wow! What a fabulously giving spirit in you and this post. Love it! Fabulous ideas.
    One to keep in mind, too: shoe drives. Most of us have far too many shoes and we (I?) tend to forget how great the need for those on the streets or in shelters. Especially kids, whose tootsies grow so fast.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  18. Becki Svare says:

    What an incredible adventure you two are on! How incredible kind and compassionate. Very inspiring!

  19. Carol, I love so many things about this post and what you are doing. I worked in non-profits for many years. I LOVE how you ASKED what was needed and didn’t just assume. I LOVE that your giving is more about the need than what you have in surplus. I love that you took care of a homeless man’s dog. A lot don’t go into shelters because they can’t take their dogs. I love that you are flexible and are caring for those who come in at the last minute. The holidays bring us an increase in domestic violence, so shelters will likely see families very close to Christmas who have left everything, including their gifts under the tree. You and your husband have inspired me. As Jesus would say “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

  20. I love this, Carol. We, too, have been trying to find the right ways to help and the right causes to donate to.There are so many people in need right now.

  21. Chloe says:

    What a heartwarming post. I’m always glad to see others help those in need. I myself try to a way to do so no matter how small.

  22. Carol, this is such a great reminder! It is so important to not only remember to give back to our friends and family during the holiday season, but our community as well.

  23. Tyler says:

    Wow I admire you thanks for writing this! I definitely do similar things every year and I wrote a post on how to give and everything. I appreciate these posts this time of year.


  24. GiGi Eats says:

    One of my favorite things to do in life = give to others. Get others presents, gifts, help them, etc. So the holidays are just that much more fun for me, because I adore giving others, especially those who I love, the gifts they want and deserve!

  25. Angela zimsky says:

    Thank you for lending a hand to those in need.

  26. Holly says:

    That is really nice. I’ve never been on a nice vacation so I know I couldn’t give one up.

  27. Elizabeth O. says:

    That’s beautiful! The choices that you made to give those in need a beautiful Christmas is just heartwarming. I love that you decided to do this instead of a grand vacation. That’s what this season is all about anyway.

  28. This is such a beautiful story! Something tells me that you will receive way more than you and your darling husband is giving! Just the way The Universe works. Blessings.

  29. kelly reci says:

    I admire you Carol. You have a good heart and I will pray to bless you more.

  30. Myteenguide says:

    A generous like you Carol deserves to be bless more. I love reading this. Very inspiring. You are great.

  31. Barbara says:

    You have inspired me. I was going to donate some winter coats and other things I’ve ‘ahem’ outgrown this year to a local organization who sells used clothing but, now I’ve decided to donate them to a local shelter. It’s important to remember how fortunate we are and to share the wealth.

  32. Ellie says:

    I love this! What you’re doing is wonderful and so inspiring! I visited SF earlier this year and was shocked at the extent of the homelessness, it was sad to see. It’s the same issue that we have here in Vancouver though. If everyone did what you’re doing this Winter (it is bitterly cold and snowy here right now too!) it would help so many people.


  33. michelle says:

    I so love this post. You are right it feels great to give and I plan to give and give some more this holiday season! I wish more people thought like you.

  34. Meeta says:

    Each year we organize a giving tree with our school. Over the year we have contact with different children homesand collect their wishes for christmas. In a list we write their names, ages and what their wish is and each can pick who they want to gift. A great way to make sure the presents come to kids in need. It feels right to be doing good.

  35. Jill Conyers says:

    The need is great everywhere. I work with a child whose family recently became homeless. i’ve gathered donations and found services in the community but like you said the need is so great.

  36. ohmummymia says:

    I love this post. I really admire people who are helping to other people and they don’t want anything in exchange 🙂

  37. What a lovely gesture, it really does feel good to know your donations will make people feel wanted and loved this Christmas.

  38. TColeman says:

    Giving to the community and helping especially during the colder months is important. There are so many out there that could use just a small blessing.

  39. Se manifique! Madrespect to you for this post in its promotion and awareness over the act of giving. when we help each other we ALL win!

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