I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was growing up, my family was living somewhere near the poverty line.
My dad worked as a vending machine repairman throughout most of my childhood, and like many other moms, my mom stayed home until we got older. They wanted us to have a better life, and to do that, they emphasized how important education was – instead of taking summer vacations every year, we went camping an hour away and my parents invested everything they could into sending the three of us to Catholic school.
There was one year in particular that sticks out in my childhood, especially now that I’m an adult with children of my own. At the time, I had no idea that my parents were in financial trouble or how much my parents sacrificed. I didn’t know what “laid off” meant and I didn’t understand why why my mom insisted on buying the cheapest meat at the store or why our family car was always an older model. But this year was different from the other years because this was the year that my dad was laid off from his job, and while I’m sure he collected unemployment, this meant that we had significantly less money coming into the house and Christmas was just around the corner.
Though my parents had help from extended family to help provide for us growing up, as many families often do, my dad did everything he could to avoid us leaning on government assistance – he would take extra hours whenever he could at work and side jobs, often saying that there were other families out there that needed it more than we did.
As a 10-year old, I didn’t understand what was going on when volunteers from Toys For Tots showed up at our house with a bunch of wrapped gifts for us. They didn’t tell us that someone, perhaps with the help of my mom, had signed us up to receive gifts that year. The presents they brought didn’t have our names on them, but instead each gift was labeled with our respected age and gender. Within a few minutes, our modest tree had been filled underneath with gifts from perhaps dozens of people – though they didn’t know us personally, they saw the Toys For Tots box in their favorite store and decided not to leave without donating a gift for a child in need, a child like me at the age of ten. And while my dad didn’t get upset that dozens of people came together to make Christmas special for us, he was bummed out, but only because the presents that we were gifted were a reminder that he had been laid off that year.
As for me, that Christmas became a long-lasting reminder of how one person and one donation can make a huge impact in the life of a child.
Many people will go on a small shopping spree to help fill the Toys For Tots bin, but there are also hundreds of people that can only afford to buy one toy for the bin, and even though they can only do a little, together it ends up being making a huge difference for children directly in their own communities.
Dozens of people cared about making our Christmas brighter when our family needed it the most. Even as an adult, the logistics of how so many people work together in such a short period of time to collect so many toys to wrap and distribute to needy families right in their homes isn’t just astonishing, but also solidifies how important each donation during the holiday season is. For some children, the care and kindness from the giving hearts will stick with them long after the holiday season. So many people cared about our family during the one holiday season that my family needed extra help to make our holiday special, and now I can join thousands of people across the country working together to make Christmas special for kids right here at home.
Want to make a donation to the Toys For Tots program? You can start here by making a monetary donation or search for where you you can drop off toy donations.