I didn't have the best childhood in the world. However, I knew a lot of other kids my age who came from home much worse than my own. For the most part, my mother did all that she could to protect us from the demons of her crumbling marriage to my father. She worked hard year round to make sure we could afford the things we needed like food, clothes, school supplies, running water, lights and a roof over our heads. However, a few years after she had my baby sisters things in our household hit rock bottom.
My mom had been in a car wreck that prevented her from being able to go back to her old job which paid really good, allowed her to get off at a decent hour and provided us with health insurance. So, for once our survival and well being depended on my father's paycheck. And my father got paid nicely. However like most guys, his mind was on gadgets and having the latest fashions, the latest tapes and the latest kung fu movies. That summer I found out just how poor we were. My mother's stress was at an all time high even though she tried to hide it.
My great Uncle Joe (RIP) knew that we were struggling and so he hired my mom to be his and my great Aunt Sal's (RIP also) housekeeper and we got to tag along. It was the best summer I ever had as a child. Uncle Joe, who was white, Native American and black, kept us full of peppermints, taught us how to tend a garden and even took us on our first trip to a Native American neighborhood. He felt it was important for us to know about our background. And my Aunt Sal, who hadAlzhiemer's, taught me about patience and the art of being humble and together they taught me the meaning of true love.
That same fall, Aunt Sal passed away and our visits to Uncle Joe's house grew less frequent. It wasn't until the following year that I learned why. Anyways, my mom was out of work again. The little change she had made being Uncle Joe's housekeeper had run low and with Christmas coming up, I could see that it was starting to look like Santa was going to be a no show. We didn't go on our seasonal shopping trips to WalMart where we each got to pick out one special item we wanted and I knew something was wrong.
I knew that my mother had beeen the one to pay all the major bills and I feared that in addition to not having any presents for Christmas we were going to be without lights (which had happened before) and no lights meant no food in the frig. The closer Christmas got the higher tensions rose between my parents. The arguements become more frequent and got more heated. My father often left disappearing into the night and not coming home for a few days.
At times I felt like somehow I was to blame. After all, if I wasn't a kid they wouldn't have to feel bad about not being able to buy me presents right? I can't really speak for my other siblings, but I'm pretty sure if they could comment they probably felt a little bit of guilt of as well. In terms of finances, kids are 'bills.' They cost money-clothes, more food, school supplies, doctor visits, etc.
Right before Christmas, my mom started voluteering at this nonprofit community center called the Wallace Family Life Center in our neighborhood. Her best friend was the secretary at the time and they had needed some extra office help and another tutor for their After School Program. And since she was between jobs, she spent her days out there helping make a difference in people who were just like us-financially less fortunate. We were no strangers to the WFLC either. I had been on their girl scout troop, we had gone to their yearly Christmas dinners and later on I served as President of their Youth Council for two terms.
Long story short, the WFLC, which was started by the South Caroline United Methodist Women, hosts a Sponsor-a-Child ministry every year. They started around September calling businesses and churches to see if they could donate new clothes,shoes, toys and more to the participants in their different programs. And they always picked one special family from the community and got a church or business to buy gifts for everyone in that family (parents included). Well, Christmas Eve came and we still had lights thankfully and EBT had ensured that we would have food to eat. So, we made cookies and watched Rudolf and camped out in my older sister's room like usual.
We couldn't sleep a wink. We tried to see if we could hear the sound of our parents laying out presents. Yes, we knew the man with the big white beard and belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly was just a myth and no it wasn't the end of the world. Some time between midnight and 6 AM we ended up dozing off to sleep. My mom came and woke us up for breakfast and into the living room piled one by one.
My heart was racing because I wasn't sure what to expect. Somehow, my parents had come up with the money to get us one gift each that we already knew about from digging under the tree. However, we weren't sure if we were going to get the toys and special items that were traditionally laid out along the couches or towels on the floor with our names labeling our treasure. We gather in the living room to eat breakfast and watch the Christmas parades on tv and then there's a knock on the door.
Now, we're used to my mom's side of the family stopping by to drop off their gifts, but this was early even for them to be out dropping off gifts. My mom opens the door in her pajama bottoms and sweatshirt, hair a little disheaveled from sleep and it's a strange white man in a Christmas sweater peeking back at her through the screendoor. WTH?
She asks if she can help him and he says that he's looking for the Esaw household. Well, of course we were the only Esaw household in the neighborhood. She says yes and he motions for someone to get out the big white van that's parked literally in our door. We were expecting one person to get out, but out pops like four other people. What is going on? By this time, we're all gathered around the door trying to see what these people want.
They go to the back of van and we can't see what they're getting out of the trunk. The man asks to come in and my mom asks who he is. As he begans to explain who he is we see the first couple of people come from around the back of the van and guess what??? They're carrying these huge boxes!! Guess what else?? These huge boxes are wrapped like Christmas gifts!!!! I'm thinking are these people sure they have the right house?
Mom literally screams for joy and I see the tears well up in her eyes and she struggles to unlock the screen door and let them in. Her best friend knew about our financial situation and that my mom couldn't afford to get us gifts. So, they had chosen our family as the special family to get sponsored and this church out of town had driven two hours to deliver us gifts on Christmas Day!!!! How amazing is that?
Instead of unwrapping gifts with their families they were here in our living room bringing box after box and bag after bag. I mean they filled they entire floor space of our single wide living room up with boxes and bags. My siblings and I were cheesing from ear to ear and making such a fuss about all the presents. "Do see how big that box is?" "They're bringing in more gifts!!!"
We were shocked to say the least. The man told us how he had heard about our family that when they read the story of how my mom had lost her job, had to get on government assistance and despite having five kids still volunteered to work with other people's kids at the WFLC. And knew that just had to do something to help. And boy did they help. We got clothes, shoes, new coats (much warmer than the worn out ones we had), toys, books and more. My parents got clothes and gift cards.
After they left my mom called her friend and thanked her for having submitted us as the special family. While we knew that the Santa Claus you take pictures with in the mall or watch in Christmas shows on tv didn't exist, he did exist in the form of a wonderful church family and four kind strangers who spent their Christmas delivering us gifts. I will never forget this Christmas or what Christmas means. I became a child again that Christmas and for a while all my fears went away and I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
As most of you know, I was a single mother not too long ago. Last Christmas, I was stressing out about not being able to go all out for Moo's first Christmas. Well, one of the board members heard about my unfortunate situation and she decided to sponsor Moo and a few more members followed suit. So, again thanks to the WFLC, we had a good Christmas!! And now that I'm finally getting my feet back on the ground and things have become more stable for us, I decided that I wanted to give back to the same community center that helped me and my family.
So, I've decided to try to find sponsors to donate clothes, toys and much more to help the WFLC get gifts for all FORTY of the children in their After School Program as well as the senior citizens and adults in their Adult Ed Class and Homemaker's Club. I know that this is a great task that I am undertaking, but I'm doing something that will change these people's lives and give them hope. I've been in their shoes more than once and I know how the kids feel as well as the parents. So, I'm really serious about putting forth my best efforts to put together some amazing gift bags.
So, readers I'm officially asking and inviting you all help me with this tremendous task. You will be giving over forty families what just may be the best Christmas they've ever had. Join me inspiring hope and making dreams come to life.
For more information on the Wallace Family Life Center visit their Official Website.