Bringing Hope to Children Experiencing Homelessness
Our First Delivery
I will never forget the first year we delivered our Sweet Dreams Bags to the shelter; we had made arrangements to give them to the children in person a couple of nights before Christmas. When we arrived at the shelter, we unpacked and set up several areas around the large room to work with the children. After all, my friend Lisa and I were homeschooling moms, aka teachers, and teachers need stations. ♥
Lisa and her children manned the music area while my children and I set up the art station, story rug, and of course, a spot to place all the donations we brought. The children were excited to see us set up the keyboard and even more excited when we passed out the jingle bells. Reflecting back now, I hope the moms weren't too upset that we let the children keep the bells.☺ We helped the kids with craft projects, read Christmas stories, and sang carols. Oh, what fun we had.
That night we distributed almost 50 packages. We had a variety of bags to meet all the different needs. We couldn’t give to just the children, so we called Betty to get a headcount and approximate ages of all the people she thought would be at the shelter over Christmas. We filled bags, boxes, and yes, even Christmas cups to ensure we could meet everyone’s individual needs, from diapers and rattles, blankets and books, to sweatsuits and socks. We even passed out hot chocolate, candy canes, homemade cookies, and quick bread loaves. It was a time I will never forget.
It wasn’t all roses. In fact, there were several uncomfortable moments during our visit. When you do something for someone’s child, they warm up to you right away. The moms were easy to talk to, and the young children, well, it was Christmas, and we came bearing gifts, activities, and food. Need I say any more? The teens and older adults without children were the most difficult to reach. It took them all night to open up, and some of them never did. It was only as we made our way to the kitchen to pass out the cookies and pumpkin bread that they let their guard down. Honestly, they just began talking amongst themselves about how delicious everything was and that it was nice to have some homemade food. A few shared with us how much they liked baking. One teenage girl, who wasn’t sure about us at all, looked right through me as she pushed her cookies aside.
I walked around her to the back table and began pulling out some of the smaller bags, about 25 of them. She snarled, “What’s that?” I quickly replied, “Oh, these are for you. We made special bags for the teens.” Her eyes softened, “Really?” I passed her one and explained that we added additional items to help fight the cold weather, like socks and sweatshirts. She replied, “Cool.”
Crisis averted. Eye roll stopped mid-stream. Connection made. She pulled her cookies back and began nibbling. She still wasn’t engaging much, but she did manage to stay with us in the main room for the rest of the night. As I walked around the tables, I heard her tell another teen, “Man, I really needed some socks.” I’ll never know for sure, but I’m guessing she stayed because she felt as though she hadn’t been forgotten. Sock girl, if you are still out there, please know that I haven’t forgotten you.♥
Another curious part of the evening occurred when we began passing out the bags; a few children grabbed the bags and ran to their rooms to open them. I was confused, and my face must have shown it because one of the shelter volunteers pulled me aside to tell me that this was a typical reaction for children who have nothing. She informed me that some of the children she sees at the shelter tend to develop extreme anxiety about losing their possessions.
Some guests were shy, and others freely shared stories. One mom proudly showed us how she made her room as pretty and peaceful as possible for her children while they spent the holidays in the shelter. She trusted us enough to show us her room and how special she tried to make it for her children. It was so hard to say goodbye, but there was joy in knowing we had started something worthwhile and that this was just the beginning. My heart still swells when I think about the joy given and received and the lessons learned on that particular night ten Christmases ago.