For years I have participated in our church’s or our school’s angel tree program. Families come to them when in need; they hang paper ornaments on a Christmas tree with a gift idea written on each; friendly “angels” take the ornament, buy the gift and bring it back for distribution. Giving is part of the Christmas spirit after all.
But this year? I’ve turned sour on the whole angel tree experience. I’ve heard one too many stories of a family claiming to be in need when in fact, they were far from it. People pulling up in their Range Rover to pick up a generous group’s Thanksgiving donation. I’ve had more than one store clerk tell me about people returning all gifts with gift receipts to get money that they’ll use for who knows what. I’m not trying to judge people’s choices here or be a complete scrooge. I’m just feeling that I can’t trust the systems I’d previously trusted. I know there are families in genuine need out there – I just don’t feel that I know how to reach them.
It’s depressing on a lot of levels so this year, I decided to bow out. To continue the donations I make throughout the year to certain causes but not to participate in any holiday giving projects. Then my church’s Director of Religious Education sent me an email.
In that email she mentioned that she has adopted a few families in our program that are in genuine need. The cynic in my head immediately wondered how well she screened these families. But before hitting delete the lists of items on these gift lists caught my eye. Deodorant… soap… contact cleaner…
When people put basic necessities on their Christmas list… well, I tend to think they are genuinely in need. I went to Target last night and filled my cart with necessities and added a number of items on the list for a 12 year old boy. I can only hope that the socks, shirts, soap and other items will be received in the same spirit that they are being given: a humble and grateful one.