Back in the 80’s, our local newspaper sponsored a program called Clothe-A-Child. Residents donated money to clothe as many needy children as possible during the holiday season. My husband and I volunteered to take children shopping. The directions were to use the allotted funds to buy a warm outfit plus winter coat, hat, gloves and boots for each child. We were allowed to buy one small toy per child with our money, but were strongly discouraged from spending more than that.
We drove to a rundown neighborhood on the rough side of town. The house had no curtains at the windows and little paint on its rotting exterior. The porch boards felt unstable as we walked to the door and knocked. A pretty, pencil-thin woman with long dark hair and a baby on her hip opened the door. An older man and woman sat on folding chairs at a formica table watching a small, black and white television. A young man sat on the bare floor with his back against the wall. The house was immaculate, but there was no furniture.
I said, “We are here to take Jose and Maria (names changed) shopping.” Two young children raced into the living room and spoke to their mother in Spanish. She nodded. They kissed everyone goodbye and we headed to the restaurant of their choice: McDonalds. Jose (age 6) spoke for both of them since Maria (4) was shy. He said they were living with their mother, father, grandma and grandpa in Ohio until their father could find another job so they could all move where it was warmer. We surmised from the things he said that they were displaced migrant workers.
We arrived at the store. Jose and Maria’s faces lit up as they tried on, then bought the clothes of their choice. We asked them to pick a toy. Jose was elated to find a Rubik’s Cube, the toy of the year. He said all of his friends at school had them. Maria chose a purse with comb, brush, and pretend makeup. She hung it on her shoulder while twirling in front of the full-length store mirror.
The children thanked us over and over. They spoke animatedly to each other in Spanish in the backseat of the car. Upon arriving home, they jumped out with their bags. Maria hugged her purse to her side, but Jose’s Rubik’s Cube was nowhere to be seen. I asked Jose if it was in his bag. He reached into his pocket and pulled out many of the multi-colored small cubes that made up the larger Rubik’s Cube. He said, “Maria wanted to play with it too so I broke it to share.” I told him I didn’t think it could be fixed. He said, “I know, but it’s okay.” Maria opened her purse and gleefully showed me the rest of the pieces. Jose smiled and hugged her tight.
Jose and Maria are grown now and probably have children of their own. I still see them as they were that night …wide smiles and dark, shining eyes beaming with joy and love…Christmas angels.
Postscript: My husband & I were touched by Jose’s generosity and told friends about the experience. We pooled funds to purchase/wrap clothes and gifts for the whole family. One couple donated their gently used furniture. They also bought Santa and Mrs. Claus costumes and decorated a freshly bought Christmas tree. Another couple cooked a complete Christmas dinner. We filled several large boxes with more food. On Christmas Eve just after dark, we quietly placed everything on the rickety front porch. Santa and Mrs. Claus knocked on the door while the rest of us stayed out of sight. As the door opened, Santa proclaimed, “Feliz Navidad!” Jose, Maria, Mom, Dad, Grandma & Grandpa came outside. Santa & Mrs. Claus hugged and cried with the family as they helped carry the Christmas bounty into the once empty house.