I know what you're thinking, December 23rd -- that's the day before the day before Christmas...or more directly, the day before Christmas Eve -- Christmas Eve Eve. That's the day full of hustle and bustle, last minute stocking stuffers to grab, cookies to bake and hams to cook...but gifts? on the 23rd?
Well, December 23rd, 2019 was a gift indeed, chock full of gifts, actually.
I arrived at Hospitality House that morning to find my office filled from floor to ceiling with bags and bags and bags of gifts -- courtesy of Lynne Lear and her Toy Drive Elves. You see, I had given Lynne the ages and interests of four children being raised by their grandmother. We were going to make sure that they had a magical Christmas.
This grandmother came to us in November, on the verge of homelessness, trying to raise her grandchildren. We were able to quickly and successfully find her and her grand-kids an apartment through our Rapid Rehousing Program - one of five unique housing programs that we operate - paying her rental and utility deposits, along with a few months rent, to ensure that this family was set up for success.
After moving all the gifts out of my office and into the conference room, I gathered wrapping paper, scissors, tape and bows then hit 'play' on my Spotify Christmas Favorites song list. It was a quiet day at Hospitality House, so I was hopeful.
In the days leading up to Christmas last year, there were multiple (thankfully unsuccessful) suicide attempts by some of of our in-house residents. The holiday season can be a time of depression and sadness for many in our midst. As I wrapped and sang, I also hoped and prayed for a good day. A joyous day.
Soon I was joined by Tina (our executive director) and Shane (our director of grant funding.) Each of us taking a different child's gifts to wrap. We quoted our favorite Christmas movies. We played our favorite Christmas songs. We shared our family Christmas memories and traditions. We joked (mostly about my sad lack of gift-wrapping skills -- and Shane trying to wrap a basketball.) And we laughed. A lot. Soon, the events of last year seemed a distant memory.
Eventually, we loaded all the gifts - snow sleds, backpacks, art supplies, clothes and tons more - into my Xterra and I headed off to deliver the goods, along with a traditional Christmas meal food box prepared by Keith (our food service coordinator.) As I started to unload, two of the kids met me in parking lot of the apartment complex. Barely able to contain his excitement, the youngest boy looked at me and said, "I want to help, but don't give me any of mine. I might be tempted to ruin my own surprise."
My heart melted on the spot. As we finished unloading into the living room, the youngest girl set out organizing the gifts under the small blue artificial table-top tree and that youngest boy just kept saying, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Yes, heart still melting.
It probably doesn't surprise you to know that things can get pretty hectic at Hospitality House. After all, there are 100+ women, children and men living here at any given time. As I am fond of saying, "Think about having over one-hundred people live at your office." It's a unique (and sometimes challenging) dynamic, to say the least.
So, today I pause to give thanks for the gift of December 23rd. The gift of time, joy, and laughter. The gift of quiet, stillness and peace. The gift of Wilson Phillips (seriously, you should download their Christmas albums.) The gift of selfless and giving "elves." The gift of a smile (and look of relief) on a grandmother's face. The gift of a child's boundless excitement. The gift of my heart melting...over and over again.
May we all be blessed now and in the coming year with many December 23rd's.
Director of Development