Holidays in Poverty

It’s cold here these days–record cold for my area, with piles of snow and icy winds.  We were standing at the bus stop, talking about how cold it was, and some of the parents were laughing about “cold days,” the days when schools close due to wind chills.  “Come on, people go to school in Minnesota, for Heaven’s sakes!”

“Well,” I said, “it’s mostly for the kids in high poverty.  Where I used to work, kids came to school without coats and barefoot all the time.  They can’t be out in these temperatures.”

“Oh,” said one of the moms.  “Wow, I never thought of that.  I guess so.”

It brought back memories.  Christmastime was the hardest at my school.  Most of us think of Christmas as a magical time, and love watching the delight on our children’s faces when the decorations go up and the Christmas music starts.  Children in poverty find the holiday season magical too–though many of them see their dreams dashed and return to school miserable and despondent.  They see everything–the commercials on television about toys and candy, the holiday decorations at Walmart, and know the story of how if they’re just good enough, Santa will bring them presents and make their lives better.  When they wake up on Christmas morning, and it’s still cold and empty, those broken dream haunt them for months.

They don’t ask for what you’d expect.  Most of the time, it’s simple things–a baby doll, a toy truck, a football, books.  Sometimes even simpler: shoes, crayons, jeans without holes, mittens.  And sometimes, it’s something that you’d never expect:

“I want surgery for my grandma.”

“More soup kitchens, because they’re always full on Christmas and it’s hard to sit with my family.”

“I want my mom not to cry at night.”

“I want someplace warm to sleep.”

“I wish we had a room, instead of living in my dad’s truck.”

We had a “fill the stocking” event for children every year, and the donations were few (mostly from the teachers themselves)  Ours was for a young boy we’d never meet.  The children brought in their own little toy cars and tubes of chapstick, so worried for these children who had even less than they did.  One of my students had to be dissuaded from putting his school supplies in.  He broke open his box of crayons, tucked the red, blue, yellow and black into his desk, and said, “That little boy should have at least some colors.  I can mix whatever else I need.”  They drew outlines of pictures to make a coloring book for this child.

Our school collected toys for our students, and they were overjoyed by them, no matter how small.  They delighted in new clothes, shoes, accessories and candy that we solicited over the year.

It’s easy to get caught up in making Christmas perfect for ourselves and our children.  If you have the means, please consider donating to Christmas toy, food, and above all, clothing drives.  They really are appreciated, and it does make a difference.  Consider when donating food that many people don’t have an oven or stove, so things that are simple to prepare or pre-prepared are best.    Warm clothes like socks, underwear and pajamas are always welcomed, and hard for people to ask for.  Consider calling a local school, especially those in high poverty areas, and asking if they have a community organizer–many do, and they can tell you exactly what they need and make sure each family gets it.

There are so many wonderful, kind people in this world; I’ve seen the effects they can have.  Sometimes we just need to be reminded of how simple these acts of kindness and be.

Some stories about my amazing, generous students during the holidays

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