Working at the Holiday Partnership can make you believe in miracles. The first meeting is usually enough to make you believe that there are a lot of people in this community who care about what happens to people who have had a hard time keeping things together for their families. Around the huge conference table at the Family Resource Center are representatives of the State Department of Human Services, St Vincent de Paul, the Band of Brothers, Kiwanis and Rotary, the Faith Community, Sheriff’s Department, Crook County Human Services, and others who have participated at various levels in the past.
Before the first meeting, some contributors have scoured last year’s ‘After-Christmas’ sales with donated money, shopping for kids coats and boots. You’ve never seen such bargainers, nor have you ever seen the quality and quantity of the loot they bring home and store in the attic so that any kid who needs a new jacket this winter can have something beautiful. The people who will pack food boxes have already arranged for the roll-ey thing that moves food boxes along to be packed with canned goods and boxes of mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and powdered milk. Banana boxes are already lined up, and the crew to pack those boxes has pretty much already volunteered. By the first meeting in the beginning of November, applications for gifts and food boxes have been received and screened so that all gifts are distributed carefully by need. Seniors, disabled, and others who are receiving support for their families have a chance to request what they would like to receive as gifts, and their desires are sent out into the community on tags for the Trees of Joy in banks.
In the two weeks leading up to the distribution of gifts and food boxes, community members come to wrap every gift in donated wrappings. They often stand for hours treating each item they wrap as if they were giving it in person to someone special to them. Day after day the gifts mount up – toys, sweaters, shoes and socks, bathrobes and PJ’s. There are bicycles from the Bike Man who can turn bits and pieces of old bikes into shiny new ones for kids who wouldn’t get one otherwise. And there are the church ladies (and men) who bring lunch every day during the last week, so that the wrappers and food box packers can eat lunch and keep working. Guys (and gals) gather packages for each person into huge yellow bags so that all the gifts for a family are gathered into one. Hundreds of people will get gifts and food that would have been impossible otherwise. As if that weren’t miraculous enough by itself, there are special moments that can really make you smile: like the kid who wanted a guitar for Christmas, and they wrapper who said, “Hey, I have a small guitar in my car that you can have.” That happened one day while I was there and the lady tying the big red and white bow on the package was getting a little teary. That happens day after day, and the people who pack and wrap and distribute the gifts do it because they love the feeling that comes with making miracles happen.
I’m not sure why everyone who volunteers for this massive effort does it, I’m sure they all have their own reasons and there are lots of good ones. The one that strikes me as I watch the joy that goes into the packing of all the presents and the food boxes, and that of the families who collect the gifts is the story from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25: 31-46). It’s about when the King comes in all his glory on the last day and separates people like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. To the sheep people, the King says, “You are blessed because you fed me when I was hungry, visited me when I was sick and in prison, clothed me, welcomed me, housed me.” They are astounded because they didn’t ever see the King in such need. But the King – Jesus – says that when you do it for the least, you do it for Jesus himself. We are not used to seeing Jesus in the faces of those who need something extra, but Jesus himself tells us that we will find him there. There is joy in being able to do something important for someone who needs it, and often the giver feels as blessed as the receiver. I believe that such a miracle is part of the gift of serving Jesus in serving our brothers and sisters. Blessed Christmas, and may the miracle of caring for others coe to you this year.