This year as part of setting our new family Christmas traditions, amongst other things, we talked about volunteering becoming part of our holidays. So I set out to start this tradition by taking a day off work and helping out with a local charity that our organisation donates money to – The Joy Fund. This charity collects money throughout the year to purchase new toys for children who might ordinarily not receive toys at Christmas. Every single penny donated goes to purchasing toys, the administrative costs are covered by the local newspaper The Virginia Pilot. This huge programme is run in co-ordination with the Salvation Army, Marine’s Toys for Tots and Operation Hope. Last year almost 10 000 local children received toys at Christmas. In addition to toys, many of the families will also receive brand new clothes for the children and a bag of groceries with a frozen chicken.
I volunteered to help out on the first day that the parents come to pick up the toys, clothes and groceries. The parents get to pick the toys from an incredible selection, some lucky children even get brand new bikes! There were some 800 bikes ready to be distributed. Volunteers help the parents with their ‘shopping’ and go around with the parents helping them pick out the toys; my job for the day was to help load up groceries into their shopping trolley.
I got to meet the parents after they had loaded up their trolleys with the toys and clothes. You would not believe how emotional some of these parents were. They were simply overwhelmed with the generosity they were receiving. Honestly, some of the trolleys had way more toys than I would probably buy my own children. But these toys might be the only toys the children will get for the year. The whole operation was simply incredible.
There were times throughout the day that I welled up with tears with just the thought of those children opening the presents on Christmas day! The vastness of this operation also made me a little bit sad that in our own local area there are so many families living below the poverty line. We just don’t see them.
It wasn’t until towards the end of my shift that I thought about the toys I was helping the parents load up with, seeing the vast amount of baby clothes and toys; it hit me hard seeing the number of children some of these families had, many had four or five. For a brief moment I was insanely jealous. How ridiculous is that?
Anyway, over lunch we sat with an 84 year old lady who had been volunteering at this programme for over 15 years. She told me that sadly a few of these parents will sell some of the more expensive toys on for cash to buy drugs. She also told me of a story one year she helped a seemingly ungrateful and snotty lady with her shopping trolley full of toys to her car – it was a brand new Mercedes Benz, the lady then barked at the old lady to be careful of the paint on the car. So the old lady pushed the trolley at her and said “Well do it yourself then!” and walked off! You can’t screen out all the bad eggs, the Salvation Army works hard with the schools to prevent fraudulent applications to the programme or stop the parents from selling on items donated to them. I’d say that 99.9% of the programme is all goodness and there will be many happy children with a happy smile on Christmas morning 🙂
If we are here next year I will definitely volunteer again with Chris. What a wonderfully warming family Christmas tradition 🙂