Helping Those in Need
One family's story of receiving and the gratitude that has lasted more than 20 years.
You go to the Angel Tree at the mall and donate a toy, a coat, or hat and gloves. You go to the Food Bank and drop off canned goods. Or you donate money to the Light House Shelter or to a family in need in your church.
Yet, you wonder whether it has made a difference. You never get the opportunity to see the faces of the recipients throughout the holiday season so you have no way of knowing the impact you have had on their lives.
Your generosity makes all the difference in the world. The gifts you give this year will be remembered years from now. I can tell you this because I have been on the receiving end.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on Oct. 30, 1990. I was a senior in college (on financial aid). My mother was four hours away in a small town in North Carolina raising my younger brother and sister on her own. Before she was diagnosed, she had been working three jobs – two waitress positions and as a clerk at a convenient store. Once my mother was diagnosed and the doctors realized the scope of her cancer, she was scheduled for a radical mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.
It was clear to all of us that once she had the surgery, she would be out of work for at least six weeks. The surgery was scheduled for the day before Thanksgiving. When you work three jobs just to make ends meet, there are no secrets about money. We were all aware of just how bad the situation was. Six weeks without an income didn't just mean that we wouldn't have Christmas, it meant we wouldn't be able to pay our rent, our utilities or even buy the paper goods that food stamps don't cover. It was the scariest time of our lives.
As the oldest child, I spent the weeks leading up to her surgery arranging for food stamps and helping with the electric and water bills. I begged our landlord to forgive my mother's rent until she could go back to work. In the meantime, people I did not even know were thinking along the same lines.
The police officers who spent their mornings being served coffee and breakfast by my mother took up a collection. A week before Christmas, they brought my mother a check for $500. A secretary who had heard my mother's story suggested to her office that they forgo secret Santa and instead buy Christmas gifts for my family. Churches brought us boxes of food. Some came back with boxes of toilet paper and paper towels when they realized those things were not covered by food stamps. The donations that came in for our family that holiday season were overwhelming.
I remember standing in the kitchen as yet another church brought in wrapped gifts for each of us to open on Christmas morning. I could hardly speak with a lump in my throat as I thought about all of the strangers who had touched our lives in the weeks leading up to Christmas. My younger brother who was 12 at the time had no trouble talking though.
"I wish we were rich," he said and we laughed at the thought but he continued to speak. "No, I wish we were rich so we could buy a great big billboard and thank all of Wilmington for helping us so much. This has been the best Christmas we have ever had."
It's 21 years later and the holidays are upon us. My mother, who was given less than a year to live back in 1990, just celebrated her 60th birthday. And every year, without fail, as the lights start going up all over town, we are reminded of those people who gave so much to help us through that season. We are so grateful for the ones who bought the clothes, toys and food, and donated money to help us pay rent. Some of them knew us but most of them didn't.
Most of them never got to see our gratitude. I am sure none of them realize that every year at Thanksgiving, we remember the year we spent sitting by our mother's hospital bed and we are still thankful for every single one of those gifts.