With rent, utilities, school lunch money, groceries and gas, money was scarce and my Christmas spirit, even more so. Christmas Eve dawned with not a single sign of Christmas in our small apartment. A tree and a few small gifts had to wait until paychecks were passed out at 4 that day.
Just the night before, in a fit of self-pity, I’d found myself envying Jimmy Stewart having someone to share his despair, even if it was only a klutzy angel. My youngest child, Baby Ah, was in middle school and the three older children were working their way through college. We would all be together for Christmas. I was so proud of them and felt—no, I KNEW—I’d let them down. Because this year there would be no fat and fancy Christmas tree—even if I could afford it, there was no place to put it—nor brightly wrapped and ruffled stacks spilling across the floor as they had in previous years. The sorry truth was, Santa wasn’t coming to our rent subsidized apartment.
I’d tearfully explained to the kids that with money so tight, frivolous gifts seemed, well, frivolous—and asked them for gift ideas of something they really needed. Thankfully their coats and shoes still fit and because they are amazingly sweet souls, they announced with exaggerated enthusiasm a desperate, all-consuming longing for—socks. Tube socks, crew socks, ankle socks—each shared their coveted desire for a special kind of sock.
I was vaguely comforted knowing that pickin’s wouldn’t be so slim at their dad’s Christmas celebrations. Still, the cloying scent of failure wafted around me like cheap perfume.
As soon as I cashed my paycheck, Baby Ah and I headed to Wal-Mart to buy our tree and a combed cotton bonanza of Fruit of the Looms. Hurrying toward the tree lot, I heard the distant chimes of a church bell. An older gentleman with kind eyes approached, wearing a blue jacket and a floppy elf hat. Quietly, he said as Baby Ah sifted through a stack of pine, “The trees are free. We’re closing early tonight and, well, it’s Christmas.” Tears sprang to my eyes. Thirty dollars—the cost of the sparest tree—was a windfall!
Christmas morning blew in the front door cold and crisp as the older kids arrived. We hugged and kissed and, as always, they tried to outdo each other with funny stories and sibling antics. Soon, ripped wrapping paper and bows littered the small living room along with the torn plastic of opened sock packages. Removing their shoes, on this coldest day of the year, I saw that none of my children had worn socks—a touching display of extraordinary kindness. “Thanks, Mom, I really, really needed these. See!” I imagined the tinkling of bells—another angel got his wings.
Later we spent hours building a “gingerbread” village from graham crackers and cake icing. Not an engineering brain among us, our houses sagged and sloped like an ancient barn on a windy plain. “Mine is the worst,” “No, mine is the worst,” til all agreed that mine truly was the worst. So I ate it. Laughter pealed from our throats until grateful tears flooded our cheeks. Once again, our family legend bore fruit. “No matter how bad things are, some day you will laugh about this.”
Some months later my husband and I reconciled and our lives improved. There’s nothing quite as comforting to children as two parents with steady jobs. And while my family’s misfortunes were brief and in no way as dire as the thousands of Oklahoma families that live in crushing poverty every day, the lessons learned will stay with me forever.
For many Oklahoma children, a Christmas tree and a smattering of gifts is, indeed, a Christmas miracle. Even if it’s only a pair of socks, or a warm coat, or shoes that don’t pinch growing feet.
So for more than a decade, our merry band of Monkey Island elves raises funds and purchases toys and clothing for needy children throughout Delaware County. We shop and wrap and deliver and, often, shed big tears because the need is great and always, we wish we could do more. We receive a list of children—identified not by names but a family number—detailing their ages, shoe and clothing sizes, and interest in toys, books or games. Many children are in temporary foster homes, with only a few articles of clothing and a toothbrush to call their own.
This year, in this special season of gratitude, won’t you please join me in bringing joy and laughter to some very precious and deserving Oklahoma children who, without your kind generosity, won’t have a happy Christmas? I promise, you will be greatly rewarded from the knowledge that you blessed their precious lives.
Your donation to the Delaware County Children's Clothes and Toy Fund is tax deductible. The Monkey Island Fund Raisers is the umbrella organization and 501c nonprofit organization that accepts and accounts for the money. Every dime goes for the kids. We average $50 per child (clothing and shoes for older children are more expensive than toddlers’ and small children’s clothing, so that’s why I said “average”), and every child in a family receives a gift. The gifts are given without attribution to our organization—this program is not now, nor has it ever been, about us.
Sometimes people ask me why I support the Clothes and Toy Fund. Here’s my answer: Children are not responsible for their circumstances. As for me, I give—because I can. And I’m still listening for a bell.
WISHING YOU AND YOURS THE MERRIEST OF HOLIDAYS, AND PEACE, HEALTH AND HAPPINESS THROUGHOUT THE COMING YEAR!
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