Squeezing the last few pennies from a wallet can bring unexpected joy. It's a lesson for me that never grows old.
I worked for more than three decades in local elementary schools, seeing children's needs beyond their reading abilities or math skills. Often they needed adequate clothing or simply something to make them smile.
Most schools bustle around Christmastime with all kinds of activities, including toy and clothing drives for the needy. Often staff members select an anonymous child to help, with a card providing only the child's age, gender and suggestions of what's most needed.
One year I chose a 5-year-old girl who needed sneakers. A department store outlet allowed me to stretch my dollars. I found a pretty pair of girly sneakers at a great price. I scooped them up and turned them in at school.
The last school day before the holidays came, and the children arrived filled with excitement, arms laden with gifts for teachers or treats for classmates. I've always enjoyed watching children discover the happiness in giving, and like to think that joy stays a lifetime.
I greeted the children as they arrived at school, as part of my morning duty was to help them safely exit their cars in the drop-off loop. Then a familiar, worn car pulled up, belonging to the family of a little girl who always greeted me with cheerful hugs.
This morning she excitedly hopped out, her feet hardly touching the sidewalk. She threw her arms around me and exclaimed, "My family got presents from school and I got to open one early. Look what I got!"
Her feet danced in beautiful little sneakers, just like the ones I'd bought. A lump rose in my throat. I hugged the child, wished her a great day in school and watched her skip off to class, stopping every few seconds to stare down at her new shoes.
I never knew if those sneakers were the same ones I'd bought. It didn't matter. The joy would have been the same seeing any child in new shoes. But it was particularly great that day feeling maybe this special child was wearing the shoes I'd given.
This time of year, children pore over printed ads, watch commercials and see enormous displays of gift possibilities. Most dream of far more than they'll ever receive, and most of us hope children will learn there is greater meaning to the holiday season than receiving toys. But for little ones, there's great excitement considering the possibility of fun things to come.
Families facing hard economic times will struggle to provide the most meager of extras. It's stressful wanting to give to children but being unable to do so. That's where others play a critical role. Many civic and community groups will collect and contribute to the needy. Toys for Tots is well known for providing toys, churches have food and toy drives and school ABC programs help out.
Community announcements appear in the Times and other news outlets about ways to contribute. One simple way to help is with the Mail Carriers Toy Drive on Dec. 3, a dedicated effort to help the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program. Residents may place a new, unopened and unwrapped toy by their mailboxes, and postal carriers will deliver the donations to a Toys for Tots center. With careful planning, the toys are later distributed to select families.
What better gift can we give ourselves than to know we have brought happiness to a child, especially during the holiday season?