40: Christmas Promise

40: Christmas Promise

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Christmas Promise

Because that’s what kindness is. It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.

~Andrew Iskander

Christmas Promise began more than twenty years ago. Three women started it, one of whom was a teacher who asked the children in her first-grade class to write letters to Santa. Those letters launched the program.

Christmas Promise is not a governmental program. It is not a church program, though it is non-profit. It is not advertised or promoted; it is secret. There is no paid staff. No gasoline reimbursements, no lunch, nothing. One local golf course hosts a fundraiser in September. All the money goes to Christmas Promise.

A person can select one family and buy for the whole family. The gift giver takes the gifts to Christmas Promise and the program wraps and delivers them. Christmas Promise might also decide to add to the gifts.

Everything from office space to wrapping paper to gifts is donated. Some local companies send their staff over to spend an afternoon wrapping gifts. Once they are introduced to the program, those people will often return to help on their own time.

In 2013, 254 families were recipients of Christmas Promise. The families are nominated by individuals familiar with the secret program — teachers at low-income-area schools, clergy, ministers and so on. It doesn’t matter how many kids are in the family and no family is on the list more than one year. No family knows or suspects they are going to receive anything. Everyone living in the household receives a gift, even grandparents.

Families don’t get cell phones or laptops. They get basic needs, like warm clothes, blankets, pajamas, books and games. Additionally, stockings for homeless children and adults are filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand cream, tissues, and other items that most of us don’t think of as luxuries. Over four hundred backpacks are filled with pencils, paper, crayons and books.

Many of the families receive specific requests. One little boy asked for warm socks for his father so that he could go out and get a job. Another child wanted “bug shampoo” (the teacher wrote that he had lice). Another child wanted something for his mother who has four children and only one job. The letters the kids write are heartbreaking. One little girl asked for nothing for herself; many of the kids don’t. They ask for items for their parents, brothers and sisters.

There are more than sixty men who grow white beards to deliver carloads of toys and food. Yes, they wear the requisite costume! The Santas report back to the office after finishing their Christmas Eve deliveries and volunteers get letters describing the Santa experience. The letters explain how grown men break down and cry. Each Santa delivers to four or more families in a specific area. They sometimes have to go back (fully costumed each time) until they catch the family at home. Since no one knows they are coming, deliveries can be a challenge.

This is Christmas at its best. This year I am making doll clothes for the program. I have purchased twelve dolls, and they all need shoes, pajamas and dresses. Any donations are appreciated. And if you’d like to help wrap packages after Halloween, I’ll show you where to do it and help you get started. You won’t feel like a bit player. Not even a second player. You will feel like the top elf in Santa’s workshop. Because that’s how it makes you feel. A little help goes a long way.

~Linda A. Lohman

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