I once thought the best Christmas present I had ever received came at the age of about nine. That present was an H.O. gauge train set. I have to admit that it wasn’t much of a surprise on Christmas Eve because I had spent days before, surreptitiously, or so I had thought at the time, tearing away the corner of the present to confirm my suspicion that it was, indeed, a train set.
The surprise factor may have been gone, but my joy in opening it in front of my parents was most certainly legitimate. I loved that train set. How could any Christmas present top that?
Forty-three years later one did. It wasn’t a present from my parents, both of whom are now gone; it wasn’t even a present to me. But it was the best thing that could have happened on Christmas.
It came from you. And to you I will be forever grateful.
I learned late about the Good Samaritan Mission being in need of presents for children this past Christmas. The presents involved weren’t strictly charity. Over the past year, parents “earned” them through volunteering in helping others and by taking classes to improve their lives and the lives of their children. The economy and the world being what it is today, harsh reality struck late — and the Good Samaritan Mission learned that their generous major sponsor would be unable to help, leaving the shelves largely bare of Christmas presents.
With only a week or so before their deadline for distributing gifts they didn’t yet have, I wrote a story about it.
And then you stepped in. You filled the shelves with toys. You made a huge impact on so many people — not just children, who were the most important part, of course — but more so on their parents. This past Christmas, you came through for people in need — hard-working people struggling to make their lives better — in showing them compassion and care. There is no possible way to overstate the good you have done.
Afterward, I received an email from Pastor Cruz thanking me for the article. His email was the best news I had heard all month, but I knew that I did not deserve his thanks. You deserve it. I merely told the story; you made the miracle.
And that is how things work. I get a byline on these articles. I am privileged to meet so many people selflessly doing so much good, and somehow that byline makes me a part of the story. The truth is that I’m not. To me it is an honor to tell such stories. I try to tell them from the heart — because not all news needs to be bad and not all news needs to be dispassionate. It’s okay to feel things, particularly things that are happening in our own neighborhoods to our own neighbors.
And yes, whether you live in a gated community in Apollo Beach or in Wimauma, those working in the tomato fields and the disadvantaged are in our neighborhoods, those people are our neighbors. If we don’t look out for each other, who will?
In helping the Good Samaritan Mission, or perhaps C.A.R.E., Elmira’s Wildlife Sanctuary, Deputies Darlins, the RCMA or a church food bank, you are doing just that: looking out for and caring for our neighbors.
And you brought tears to my eyes.
Pastor Cruz — I deserve no thanks. I only told your story, a story that needed to be told. It is the people of South Hillsborough who stepped up and made things happen. You made Christmas magical — and in doing so, you gave me a gift that carried through the season and into the New Year.
There is no possible way I can fully thank you. There are no words adequate to express my gratitude. I loved that train set — and, for the record, it became so much more as my Dad and I worked on it together until his death six years later. And I’ve carried that with me forever. Yet what you have done is so much greater. You have provided hope. You have fostered faith. You have given of yourself to those you may never know through the goodness of your heart.
Something like that does not go away once Christmas is past. It remains, and it will grow for years and years to come.
Thank you for making Christmas special — for children and their parents. Thank you for making Christmas special for me. I can’t imagine there could be a better present than knowing that people like you are here.