“It just doesn’t feel like Christmas” I heard from several friends and family this past December 25th. I knew exactly what they were talking about: a Michigan Christmas with no snow. It is a rather depressing sight, especially after being indoctrinated by Bing Crosby and his band of Merry Crooners. Normally, I would be the first to join them in the griping line, but not this year. Now that I’m a Detroiter, winter means something entirely different to me. Snow and cold used to be reminders of Christmas, driving around looking at festive houses, and watching it softly fall from the comfort of my warm living room. Now, it means people I know and love going to bed and waking up with frostbite, or not waking up at all…
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It was for this reason I was especially grateful to witness a huge outpouring of love and generosity from some brothers and sisters in Connecticut at St. Paul’s Church, Darien. They sent us more than 500 pounds of clothes, shoes, and blankets to give out to the needy this winter. As I opened the boxes and went through piles and piles of stuff, I must confess that I half expected to see the usual mish-mash of functional, but hideous garments that we tend to donate to people we won’t ever see. What I found, on the other hand, were piles and piles of stylish and warm clothing – the kind of clothes I know the kids I work with would be thrilled to wear. And I was right! Every single kid loved their coat.
When Santinea saw hers, she started cuddling it like a new puppy. I haven’t seen Tom in anything else since I gave it to him. When Michael shouted up to his mom - “Look! They’re bringing us new coats!” – she blurted out, “Oh, thank you Jesus!” while bracing herself against the kitchen table. I felt like Publisher’s Clearing House. Even Dashauna, a staunch naysayer, grabbed her coat and made sure everyone in the house knew it was hers. The coat was long and black with a real fox fur lining around the hood. Her grandma put it best when she sort of smirked and muttered, “Give it here. I’ve never touched real fox fur before.” I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
There are several points to these seemingly innocuous stories. First, to highlight what happens when you donate money or goods to an organization. They ARE put to good use, and the people who receive them ARE grateful. Secondly, there is a value in giving the best, rather than just the leftovers. As my dear friend Sister Judie Ann says, “Many of [the homeless and addicted in Detroit] feel ugly and worthless, and that’s why they persist in their destructive lifestyle.” By taking the time to share something beautiful with someone in need, we are showing people that they have dignity and worth as a human being. This, in turn, can lead to greater self-respect, and belief that God can love them as well. All I know is for the kids I saw that day, a beautiful coat was a reminder to them that someone out there loves them and wants them to succeed.
Now that the Christmas season is nearing a close, winter has probably lost its luster for all of us. Snow turns gray and slushy, winds blow colder and harder, and all the gift cards have been spent, leaving us with the credit card bill for our own giving. For the homeless, it means three more months of dogged survival. There may seem to be fewer tax benefits to giving in January and beyond, but I assure you, as I learned that glorious Friday in December, the good things in life are made up of more than just tax benefits. So, lest I run the risk of sounding trite, I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. But please enjoy these adorable pictures of smiling, grateful children on your way out. Happy New Year.
~ Ellen K (soon to be S)