It’s Really Christmas Now
by Kitsy Jones
The Sunday before Christmas one year, my husband, a police officer in Arlington, Texas, and I were just leaving for church when the phone rang. Probably someone wanting Lee, who has already worked a lot of extra hours, to put in some more, I thought. I looked at him and commanded, “We’re going to church!”
“I’ll leave in five minutes and be there in about twenty,” I heard him tell the caller. I seethed, but his next words stopped me short.
“A Wish with Wings’ was broken into last night, and the presents are gone,” he told me. “I have to go. I’ll call you later.” I was dumbfounded.
“A Wish with Wings”–Lee serves on the administrative board–is an organization in our area that grants wishes for children with devastating illnesses. Each year Wish also gives a Christmas party, where gifts are distributed. Some 170 donated gifts had been wrapped and were ready for the party, which was to be held that evening, less than nine hours away.
In a daze, I dressed our two children–Ben, just seventeen months, and five-year-old Kate–and we went to church. In between services, I told friends and the pastors about what had happened. The president of our Sunday school gave me forty dollars to buy more presents. One teacher said her class was bringing gifts to donate to another charitable organization and they would be happy to give some of them to Wish. A dent, I thought.
At 10:30 A.M., I phoned Lee at the Wish office. He was busy making other calls, so I packed up the kids and headed in his direction. I arrived at a barren scene. Shattered glass covered the front office where the thief had broken the door. The chill that pervaded the room was caused not only by the cold wind coming through the broken door but also by the dashed hopes of the several people who stood inside–including Pat Skaggs, the founder of Wish, and Adrena Martinez, the administrative assistant.
Looking out at the parking lot, I was startled to see a news crew from a local television station unloading a camera. Then I learned that Lee’s first phone calls had been to the local radio and TV stations.
A few minutes later, a family who had heard a radio report arrived with gifts, already wrapped. Other people soon followed. One was a little boy who had brought things from his own room.
I left to get lunch for my kids and some drinks for the workers. When I got back, I found the volunteers eating pizzas that had been donated by a local pizza place. More strangers had arrived, offering gifts and labor. A glass repair company had fixed the door and refused payment. We began to feel hope: Maybe we could still have the party!
Lee was fielding phone calls, sometimes with a receiver in each ear. Ben was fussing, so I headed home with him, hoping he could take a nap and I could find a baby-sitter.
Meanwhile, the city came alive. Two other police officers were going from church to church to spread the news. Lee told me later of a man who came directly from church, complete with coat and tie, and went to work on the floor, wrapping presents. A third officer, whose wife is a deejay for a local radio station, put on his uniform and stood outside the station collecting gifts while his wife made a plea on the air. The fire department agreed to be a drop-off point for gifts. Lee called and asked me to bring our van so it could be used to pick them up.
The clock was ticking. It was mid-afternoon, and 6:00 P.M.–the scheduled time of the party–was not far away. I couldn’t find a sitter, and my son started running a fever of 103-degrees, so I took him with me to the Wish building just long enough to trade cars with Lee.
Nothing I had ever witnessed could have prepared me for what I saw there–people lined up at the door, arms laden with gifts. One family in which the father had been laid off brought the presents from under their own tree. It was like a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life.
Inside, Lee was still on the phone. Outside, volunteers were loading vans with wrapped gifts to be taken to the party site, an Elks lodge six miles away. By 5:50 P.M.–just before the first of the more than 100 children arrived–enough presents had been delivered to the lodge. Somehow, workers had matched up the donated items with the youngsters’ wishes, so many received just what they wanted. Their faces shone with delight as they opened the packages. For some, it would be their last Christmas.
Those presents, however, were only a small portion of what came in during the day. Wish had lost 170 gifts in the robbery, but more than 1,500 had been donated! Lee decided to spend the night at the office to guard the surplus, so I packed some food and a sleeping bag and drove them down to the office. There, gifts were stacked to the ceiling, filling every available inch of space except for a small pathway that had been cleared to the back office.
Lee spent a quiet night, but the phone started ringing again at 6:30 A.M. The first caller wanted to make a donation, so Lee started to give him directions. “You’d better give me the mailing address,” the caller said. “I’m in Philadelphia.” The story had been picked up by the national news. Soon calls were coming from all over the country.
By midday, the Wish office was again filled with workers, this time picking up the extra gifts to take the other charitable organizations so they could distribute them before Christmas, just two days away. Pat and Adrena, whose faces had been tear-stained twenty-four hours earlier, were now filled with joy.
When Lee was interviewed for the local news, he summed up everyone’s feeling: “It’s really Christmas now.” We had all caught the spirit–and the meaning–of the season.