Tonight, Santa will make his annual visit to the Our Neighbors' Table Wednesday meal. Each year, he comes to dinner to visit with our guests, young and old. Children get dressed in their frilly dresses and bows and sweaters and ties. And the excitement bursts from their faces the moment they see his jolly face.
This is a special time of year, when cheer and gratitude fill the air. I’d like to share a favorite story about a very special gift we received at a previous Santa visit. Some of you may have heard this story before, but it is worth retelling as it captures the true essence of the season of giving.
On this particular night, the crowd had gathered as usual to see Santa Claus - 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 "Steven". Lynn is a single mother with two young boys. She works as an assistant manager in a fast food restaurant. Her mother, who also struggles financially, provides help with the boys when she can. The family shops weekly at our market 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 could hear Steven" as he stands closely to his mother, looking bashfully at the floor – his voice so soft and hard to hear in the crowd.
"Hi, Steven. Merry Christmas!" I say.
Steven slowly looks up at me with his big brown eyes and barely whispers "Merry Christmas" as he 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’s this?”
"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. Steven, his mother and grandmother continue to come to dinner at ONT and use the market when things get tight. Steven has grown since his birthday donation, his shoulders getting broader, his face taking on the strong jawlines of a young man. His voice is strong, no longer a whisper. He talks about football and his favorite cars.
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, the meals he gets at Our Neighbors’ Table have already given him hope. Steven knows, even on his tough days, that he has the power to make life a little better for someone else. His is the kind of gift that keeps on giving.
Today, in our community, 1 out of 8 children lives in a food insecure household, uncertain if they will get their next meal. We have the power to fix that, and, with the community’s support, with YOUR help, Our Neighbors’ Table can ensure no child in our community has to go hungry.
This year, ONT will put more than 1 million meals on the table for families like Lynn and Steven, that’s twice as many as we distributed last year. Every $1 you give equals 1 meal!
Happy Holidays to you and yours from all of the families here at Our Neighbors' Table!
Steven's compassion is an example to us all. Will you join him in helping a family who needs help? Give the gift that keeps on giving.