This year, the crowds gathered as usual - many familiar faces sprinkled with new families coming for the first time. As I was greeting and lining children up for their photos, a woman dressed festively in an elf hat and holiday sweater pulled me aside. "My son has something he wants to say to you," she said. I knew this woman, we'll call her "Lynn" and her son. She's a single mother with two young boys. She works as an assistant manager in a fast food restaurant. While the franchise has nearby locations, she continues to commute 35 minutes so that she can keep her tenure and her pay rate. Transferring stores would mean reverting back to $10/hour. Her mother, who also struggles financially, provides help with the boys when she can. The family shops weekly at our pantry and is especially grateful for the extra food that comes with the Summer Lunch Program.
So back to the Christmas dinner. I bent over so I can hear the soft voice of "Steven", who stands closely to his mother, looking bashfully at the floor.
"Hi, Steven. Merry Christmas!" I say.
Steven slowly looks up at me, barely whispers "Merry Christmas" and holds out his hand. As I look down, I see a crisp $10 bill folded neatly in his fingers. And he is handing that $10 to me.
Surprised and a bit confused, I ask Steven what this is.
"I had a birthday and I got this birthday money."
"And you're giving it to us?" I asked. "Why?"
Steven looked at me with a shy smile and replied, "So you can help families who come to Our Neighbors' Table."
My heart nearly burst! I couldn't help but wrap my arms around him and give him a big squeeze and quickly brought him over to share his compassion and generosity with Santa Claus, and just about anyone else who would listen.
In this holiday season, if you were thinking of giving, but wondered what an impact your gift would have, think of Steven and his family. Every day they struggle. But for Steven, he is learning that even he can make life easier for someone else. His is the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
2016 Update: I ran into Steven at the dessert table last week at our annual Christmas dinner. "How are you doing these days?" I asked. "GREAT!" Steven responded enthusiastically! He was so excited to talk about playing football and basketball. I couldn't help by smile watching Steven visit with Santa and reconnect with an old school friend. They laughed and joked, like all kids should.
Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of the Stevens here at Our Neighbors' Table!