The Gift of Giving

November 19th, 2013

We often hear from supporters who sponsor families through Our Daily Bread's Holiday Program who tell us that the experience of helping a family in need made them feel like they actually received even more than they gave. Laura Vaughn, our former Holiday Program manager and a long-time friend of ODB, recently shared her experience with us:

While working for ODB several years ago, I took a phone call from a mother who I’ll call Sally. Sally wanted to know, “Can I add furniture to my Holiday Program wish list?” 

“I suppose so,” I answered. It was an unusual request. “What kind of furniture are we talking about?”

She broke my heart instantly. “I need a bed for my oldest daughter,” she said. “Or even just a mattress. I have four girls sleeping on one twin mattress and my oldest, she’s seven, is so frustrated because the youngest wets the bed all the time.”

Four little girls in one twin bed? I felt terrible. But also, I couldn’t believe the coincidence of it. My husband and I had a duo bunk we no longer needed. Just a few nights before, we’d discussed options for donating it to charity. 

I didn’t stop to think. “I’m adopting you,” I said. I had been planning to adopt a family, but hadn’t done it yet. I admit I’d felt a little nervous about how it would go, what I’d have to do, whether we could we afford it. 

The coincidence of the bed erased my reservations. Also, I’d wanted to adopt a family with young children so that my own teen children could relate.  These girls were 2, 3, 4, and 7 years old.  It was perfect.

The rest of Sally’s list looked more typical. The three younger girls wanted a Baby Alive doll, the oldest wanted a digital camera, and they all needed warm winter boots.

I sent my oldest daughter shopping for the dolls with her two younger sisters. They had a blast because there are several versions of the doll: one bounces, one drinks and wets etc. All of the dolls made different gurgly baby noises. We giggled at the sounds they made inside our closet for two weeks.  Everyone was so excited to deliver those dolls! 

In addition to the dolls, we found miniature purple boots for the three younger girls and an inexpensive kids digital camera for the oldest. Last, my daughters picked out Santa wrapping paper and labels. 

Meanwhile, my teen son took the bed over and set it up before Christmas. He felt so invested in the project that he brought the kiddy sheets we no longer needed and made the beds up for them. 

It’s not easy to get four teen siblings in one place at one time, so it was a rare moment of togetherness when I got everyone to help me wrap and label the gifts. We were ready!

Sally hoped to surprise her daughters, so we planned she would sequester them in their rooms for the delivery.  We should have known that would never work.  When I knocked on the door, the girls answered by scrambling and squealing on the other side: “It’s Santa’s elf! It’s Santa’s elf!”  Sally let me in once she’d corralled the girls upstairs. 

The Christmas tree stood in the corner of their living room. It had no lights or ornaments, and Sally confessed she found it on the side of the road. I felt like I should have brought some decorations but she said, “No. They’re just so happy we have a tree it doesn’t matter.” 

As we carried in the gifts, the girls inched down the stairs one-by-one, unable to contain themselves. “Let me see! Let me see!” they giggled as they clamored over each other, their little voices overcome with excitement. They were so cute and sweet I thought I would burst.

The oldest daughter helped to arrange the gifts; Sally laid down the law about waiting for Christmas morning, and we bid our holiday farewells.   

This experience changed our Christmas. Seeing the hardship of others and acting to alleviate it had a big impact on my whole family. I know on Christmas morning, as my kids opened their own gifts, they saw everything with new eyes. 

After the holidays, Sally’s oldest daughter called and thanked me. Sally called and wrote as well. In talking to her further, I learned that she was separated from her husband. Her mother helped out while she worked during the day and attended school at night. The gifts we brought were the only ones her children received.    

“You made our Christmas,” she told me.

But it’s no exaggeration to say that they made ours.