The Gift You Gave Me: Words From a ‘Toys for Tots’ Recipient

The holidays and Christmas look a little different for the kids who grew up on the Angel Tree at the local Walmart, for the ones who stood in food bank lines to collect holiday dinner, the ones whose profiles hung at the Salvation Army for the months before Christmas came. Kids like me. Kids who generally grow up to be wonderful, compassionate adults.

The gifts my angels gave me changed my life’s trajectory and challenged me to grow bigger than the obstacles around me. Many programs intend to help low income and struggling families, whether an agency that provides money for Christmas shopping or charities that provide resources for specific assistance, or individuals who rise to the occasion. Angel trees, Salvation Army, Toys for Tots—all of these programs aim to purposefully put Christmas and resources back into the local communities. The biggest thing these programs have in common is that they curate the spirit of broken homes, struggling families, and above all—future adults.

It’s Not the Same for Everyone.

Food stamps don’t buy Christmas gifts. While the season fades into the many millions of dollars we spend on gifts and the lavish holiday meals piled high, the truth is that some families and children will not see the same spread on their tables and will wake with no presents beneath their trees, if they even have trees. In a world where most kids believe in Santa, there is a entire body of children who don’t have the choice to even believe. Every family has a different story. Some children are in foster care, some belong to single parents with no family, and some belong to families who are just barely getting by.

When I was a kid, I often was on the receiving end of these gifts. I remember being 14 or 15 years old writing my list…”an Abercrombie sweatshirt to make me cool like the popular kids and one for my sister, so she can fit in, too.” It was all I wanted. Didn’t matter what it looked like. We never had another gift, or a fancy dinner or family. But that morning, I opened that Abercrombie sweatshirt and my sister did, too, and I remember feeling, “someone heard me.” For some kids, this is the only version of Santa they know. And, it makes for very humble adults when they grow to be my age.

It’s More Than a Christmas Gift, it’s the Future.

The gift you gave me changed my life and the way I thought about living it. The truth is that sometimes it is not just merely a physical gift that we are gifting to these children. It is hope. It creates a mold for future angels. Future humans who have a fresh perspective of going without the experience of what it is like to be fulfilled, or who know personally what it feels like to have wishes come true after someone took the time to provide them to you.

It provides autonomy to children. For me, the Christmas presents were always carefully selected in size and preference right down to the color and brand. It took me a long time to understand this. As I grew from the programming curated to meet the needs of my adolescence, I recognized that through the years at Christmas time, even if it was just one, a present would show up for me in my size and taste. Just for me. Not some random item that would go largely unused, but something that I coveted, and really needed or wanted. Wrapped or not, I always knew someone saw me for who I am inside, not just as a profile on a public Christmas tree.

As an adult, I now understand the vitality in the gifts that were given to me and to my siblings through the years. It was about more than giving and receiving. The gifts they gave me was all about believing in the power of kindness and entirely embracing the mobility of mankind. Poverty is not an excuse to let children experience a Holiday season without the staples, love and resources that chalk it up to the “magic” that most of us know and love.

This holiday, season I challenge you to be an angel. To give the gift of hope to a child who is in need of the spirit of Christmas and the spirit of goodness. I challenge you to understand that all that is good of any of us, can be condensed into one small glimmer of hope within any one of us. I challenge you with each moment that you’re picking a name, a family, a gift—to consider just who these children might grow up to be because of your kindness. Because I promise you this, children like me, grow up to be incredibly thankful, hopeful, and compassionate adults.

The gift you gave me changed my life.

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