|Toys for kids of all ages!|
Typically, like today, I deliver the toys alone, quietly in the middle of the day. According to Jewish tradition, this is the way to go actually. Anonymously (although when I remember, I do get a form for our taxes), and allowing the recipients to keep their dignity. They don't know the donors, and the donors, in this case, members of our congregation, don't know where I am bringing the toys.
But one year, things happened a little differently.
In a turn of events I never could have expected, I found myself in the middle of Hackensack, NJ with a car overflowing with toys, and my own toddler son about to engage in a mitzvah (elevated good deed) that I would never forget.
That year I had been asked to collect toys for Jewish young people who lived in several group homes in Hackensack. The students in my Hebrew High School delivered above and beyond. The night we were to wrap the gifts, the amount was simply overwhelming. Back in those days, I drove a big old Chevy van, and it's a good thing.
My van was full of huge garbage bags of gifts, each wrapped in Hanukkah paper, and labeled for a boy or girl, and the age for whom the toy was appropriate. Also in my car was a small pile of toys we deemed inappropriate for donation: Christmas books, baby toys, and anything that looked used. I'd deliver those to a shelter at another time.
I got to the drop-off location, and they took as much as they could use. But, to our surprise, I really had too much. The director asked me to come to their Hanukkah party so I could see the faces of the young people when they opened their gifts, but I had to teach that night, so I had to miss the fun. But I left with my van still HALF FULL of wrapped Hanukkah presents.
This was before smart phones, so home I went. I opened this book we used to get called a phone book and started to look for homeless shelters in Bergen County. I made a few calls and I found a shelter - coincidentally right back in Hackensack - and even more coincidentally - if I could come back tomorrow - it was their Christmas Party! And their usual donors had not come through- they had nothing under their tree as of now. I wanted to tell them it was beshert (meant to be) but I think they knew that. I made a plan with the director of the shelter to meet the next day.
That day, Thursday, my little son Jacob, who was about 3, did not have his pre-school, so I popped him into his car seat, bundled up in his little snow suit. No MapQuest or GPS - I navigated by sense of direction back then! And with Jacob's favorite Hanukkah cassette tape playing we drove back to Hackensack with a car full of toys. Every so often I'd hear his little sing-song voice say, "Waldo!" as he had found the "Where's Waldo" Christmas book from the pile in my van and was finding Waldo in the North Pole scene, then in the busy shopping scene, then in the snowball fight scene.
I got to the shelter, and it was set up like an apartment house, with a common room and a front office. At first I didn't see any residents, just the office staff, who helped me bring the heavy bags into the common room. There was a little Christmas tree, decorated with ancient decorations and bright lights. There was an old television, that was on for no one in particular. The old couches and chairs looked comfortable, but worn and threadbare. The room was clean but smelled like smoke and although decorated for Christmas, was anything but festive.
As promised, there was nothing under the tree.
The director as me if I wanted to put the presents under the tree.
Um, sure, ok. I un-bundled little Jacob and took my coat off and we got to work. I was a little worried he would want to open the presents himself, but he had fun putting the presents around the bottom of the tree, and quickly learned that the side with ribbon and the tag had to go up. With the tv news as our background music, the job went along smoothly.
While we were working on this I realized we were being watched. A mother and her baby had come into the room. He must have been 2 or younger. Despite the fact it was freezing outside and pretty cold inside, the baby was dressed in only a t-shirt and diaper. Nothing on his feet. I'll never forget the juxtaposition of my bundled up boy sitting amid plenty and this little guy, in just a shirt and diaper.
The mom and I smiled at each other. Jacob and I were almost done. I said to them both that I thought Santa might be coming soon. I went in to the office to let them know we were finishing up.
The director had a shocked look on her face. I asked her what was up? She told me that their Santa was just arrested.
"Do you want to be our Santa today for our Christmas party?"
Wow. I'd would have loved that! But I had to say no, I had to pick up my other two children at school and then go to work. But what an opportunity for a Jewish woman! Still to this day, I think I would have been a great Santa!
As we were getting ready to go, I whispered to Jacob, "Do you think that little baby would like that Waldo book?" Jacob thought that was a great idea. So we went out to the van and got the book. Jacob handed it to the baby who clutched it to his chest tightly. His mom got tears in her eyes that matched mine. I looked over at the director of the shelter. She was wiping away tears as well.
We turned around and looked at all the Hanukkah presents under their little Christmas tree. The room seemed to sparkle in a way it didn't when we got there. The director turned the tv on to cartoons for the little boy. He was still clutching his book when we left. The mom was thanking us. Jacob scored a candy cane, probably his first.
I forgot to ask for a receipt.
Maybe I did get to play Santa after all.
|Santified version of me by Peter White 2015|