“For one moment our lives met our souls touched”
She was pushing a shopping cart down the middle of the street close to my house. She was wearing a man’s coat at least two sizes too big. She wore boots that looked like they had come from a construction site. She had a baseball cap on her head, and she looked dirty and totally unkempt!
I stopped my van, right in the middle of the street, and rolled down my window, “Hey, ma’am” I called to her, “I have something for you!” She had sense enough to move her shopping cart out of the middle of the street and park it in a nearby parking area. I’m sure all of her worldly possessions were in that cart. As she started over to my van, I quickly jumped out and opened my back door. There was a box on my backseat with one Christmas stocking left in it. I noticed that there was a pink, gray, and black knitted scarf right on top of the stocking. I handed it over to her, and she smiled a big toothless grin. “This is great” she said, and in an instant we were hugging each other like the best of friends. “I’m so dirty” she whispered in my ear. “I don’t care” I whispered back. I could smell stale cigarettes and dirt, and the stench of a hard life,on the streets. But, every breath I took of her scent was heavenly!
We parted, and with a smile even bigger than before, she thanked me. There was a track on that dirty face where the tear was traveling. My smile matched hers, as did the tear sliding down my own face. “Merry Christmas,” I said. She waved her hand, already crossing the street. She was cradling her stocking in her arms. I jumped back in my van and set out for home. I didn’t even have to wonder which one of us had received the better gift that day!
The stocking I gave out to her was one of over 200 stockings given out this year to homeless people on the streets of the Denver/Metro area.
Last year, my sons and I wanted to do something meaningful for the holidays. I remembered a story one of my friends had told me about her cousin. He was living on the streets in Santa Fe, and he told her to never give money to homeless people. Being a tender hearted person, she couldn’t stand to pass by anyone in need. She asked her cousin what she could give to those out on the streets. He simply stated “food.” And so she began carrying granola bars in her car. Now, whenever she sees a homeless person, she hands them a granola bar. With her story in mind, I thought it would be great fun to stuff Christmas stockings for our homeless folks. I discussed it with my two sons, and they suggested that we have a Christmas stocking stuffing party at our house.
I e-mailed my friends and told them of our plan to stuff stockings for homeless people, on the streets. I asked them to bring personal use items small enough to fit in a stocking, and asked for any “gently used” Christmas stockings they may have “retired” from years past. I told them that I would feed them “fine” Mexican food, and it would be a great party. My goal was to fill 25 stockings.
Much to my amazement, twenty-three people came with their donations and stockings, and we stuffed 83 stockings. One of our party-goers was a teacher at a local elementary school, and her school got involved making and decorating stockings for the party. Adorned with glitter, sequins, and cotton ball and glue Santa beards, the stockings were beautiful in every sense of the word. The party was great fun, and the stockings were stuffed within a half hour of stuffing commencement. At the end of the party, I asked everyone to take stockings to hand out. To see what a small gift can bring to someone who has nothing, is a gift within itself. I wanted the whole family, parent and child alike, to be able to witness the beauty in the giving.
And then the stories started coming in. Friends who had delivered their stockings were deeply touched by the responses they got. One of my friends recounted that when she gave her first stocking out to the homeless guy at the corner of an intersection, he looked at her in amazement, and asked “Is this all for me?” She said he had a big grin on his face, and before she could drive away, he was sitting on the curb, looking at every item. She was quite moved by this encounter. Another of my friends, who had several stockings to hand out, got accused of being Santa Claus. He said that there were five men standing in the day labor line, one early morning. He stopped his truck and grabbed the stockings and started handing them out. Before he had time to get back in his truck to leave, the men were looking through their stockings and trading items, “just like a group of little boys,” he said. And the stories just kept coming. Everyone brought a tear to my eye and my heart…well it was bursting with joy.
I had friends ask me if we were going to do the stocking stuffing again this year, before the Christmas season even began. I had been planning on doing it again this year anyway, but their excitement and desire to do so sealed the deal. Riding on their enthusiasm, I decided to grow the project. This year, I planned way ahead of time, and gave the stocking stuffing an actual name, and Project Stocking Stuffer was born. I knew that if we had even one more person than we had last year, I would need a bigger place to host it. I asked the local charter school where both of my children had attended school, if they would let us use their gym. They, of course, were happy to do that for us and we were off and running. My dear friend Mickey helped out with the planning and organizing, and got her sorority involved. One of the local YMCA mother/daughter groups wanted to help, as did the National Junior Honor Society, at the charter school.
I began sending e-mail out to friends and family, in early October, regarding the project, and asked them to spread the word. And keeping with the Mexican food theme, I asked everyone to bring a Mexican food dish for a potluck. Mickey and I cooked for everyone last year, but we knew this year would be more than we could handle on our own. I could not believe the response I got. I was overwhelmed with donations, lovingly referred to as “stuff”, and the amount of volunteers, lovingly referred to as “stuffers”. The week of the Project Stocking Stuffer party, my living room looked like a warehouse. I had many people drop off their stuff so I could get it organized, before taking it to the gym. There was everything from tooth brushes and tooth paste to crackers and foil covered Christmas candies- much to my little dog Lilly’s delight. I had to watch her closely, as she was certain that all of the food items were for her! Thank goodness the stuff was only in my living room for a few days before the party, or my dog and I would have both been out of our minds.
On Sunday, December 5th, the glorious event began! Stuffers began coming with more stuff and their Mexican food dishes. Mickey and I weren’t sure there would be enough food- what foolish thoughts those were! When we finally got everything organized and the stockings ready to stuff, I stood back and watched as 60 plus people formed the line ready to stuff their stockings. I could hardly believe what I was witnessing. Every molecule of my being was glowing, as I watched the love being poured into those stockings. I was watching it in slow motion, as if under some miraculous spell, and not unlike the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes that day.
All in all, we stuffed 193 stockings to the brim, and the YMCA mother/daughter group took the ten half filled stockings, and were going to fill them and give them out. What a wonderful way to start the season of giving. And the best part- the stories began to come.
Mickey was stopped at a light at an intersection. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at a man standing in the median. He was an older guy she reported. He was obviously one of our many homeless people, here in the Denver /Metro area. She rolled down her window, and called him over to her car. As he approached she noticed that he was pretty grimy. She told me that he looked like he had been on the streets for awhile. She took a filled to the brim Christmas stocking out of the stores she had with her in her car.
As she handed the stocking over to him, his face broke into a wide grin. “I can’t remember the last time I had a Christmas stocking”. His voice was filled with amazement as he took in every inch of that stocking. “You are a nice lady” he said in earnest, “thank you so much!”
She began to explain that it wasn’t just her, but many people who were involved in filling and delivering these stockings. “We just want to bring a little joy into your holiday. There’s a card, which will explain it all in your stocking”, she said.
His clear eyes looking out of his dirt stained face met hers. “I guess God has given two blessings today.” “Two?” she asked, not quite sure what he meant.
He nodded his head, “one for me and one for you.” The light changed and she wished him a Merry Christmas, and with a “God bless you” on his lips, she drove away.
When Mickey recounted this story to me, I was deeply touched. I thought about my lady with the shopping cart, and her clear eyes reaching out to me from her dirt stained face. “This is what it’s all about Mick!” I said. “Yes” came her emphatic reply, “this is truly what it’s all about!”
|Stuffers organizing Project Stocking Stuffer 2010|
|Every Christmas card in every stocking got this message|
|Stuffers connecting with each other|
|And around the corner is another table with stuff!|
|Let the stuffing begin!|