Stumbling into kindness


When fall hits, I start thinking about Christmas presents. I like to have my holiday presents all planned out early so I can enjoy the season without rushing. However, this year I happened to stumble upon some gift giving at the last minute for some strangers. And in the end, it was more of a present for me…

This was the first Christmas that my children would both be gone. They were both off at college and celebrating Christmas morning with other friends and family. So that meant no stockings, no early morning presents or no childlike excitement. Needless to say, my mommy side was a bit sad. I enjoyed making the holidays extra special for the kids. (It may have been even more fun for me than them.)

So when I came across a Facebook post asking for donations for local families in need, I quickly offered some help. It would be nice to feel like Santa and it seemed simple enough. Buy a few grocery items that could be placed into a holiday food basket. The organizer, who was a stranger to me, happened to live just a few miles from me. That made it even easier for me to offer more help upon dropping off my contribution.

After talking with her, I found out that her idea of making a couple of food baskets turned into donations for eight families. Her and her two daughters had come up with the idea and made a simple post to a community Facebook group. Then, myself and others started donating. So her two baskets turned into eight. She was so overwhelmed at the sudden rush of donations, so I offered to help her deliver them on Christmas Eve. I mean, why not? I wasn’t doing anything with my kids that day anyway.

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This is the “basket” of food that was collected, which then turned into eight more.

For ease and safety, a majority of the baskets were taken to one location so that people could pick them up there. We were met with smiles and tears and genuine appreciation. Grown men and women humbly approached us and said, I’m …. you said to met you all here.  One man was picking up a basket for a woman with cancer. She wasn’t feeling well enough to get out, but her son came along too and greeted us with wide eyes when we gave him the food. Another woman showed up all tearful in her van that had a blanket for a side window. And a tattooed man that spoke of motorcycles could not completely hide his emotions as he drove away. It was touching to see how we had affected people in such a good way.

After we gave out those baskets, we had two more to deliver in the local area. One was to a single mom of five young boys. They didn’t know we were coming and when our cars pulled up on their dead end road, the boys started peaking out the window. I am sure they were wondering what a group of people were doing on their street all of the sudden. With a gallon of milk in my hand, I started to walk with the girls towards the house. Then I stopped. I realized I was walking with the girls who helped plan the event with their mom while she was standing back by the car. I couldn’t give out stuff with her girls while she stood in the shadows. I turned around and urged her to go instead since it was her idea after all. (We were trying not to overwhelm the lady by have too many people come to her door.)

So from the road, I saw the girls hug the young boys and the moms both wipe tears from their eyes. The boys started hopping around looking in the basket. There were no toys in the basket, but food is never a bad thing when your hungry.

Shortly after that, we stopped by an extended stay hotel. A lady came out slowly with a walker. She approached us and let us know that she was the one we contacted. We gave her the laundry basket full of food, and she started to tear up. I don’t know her story, but she thanked us for our kindness. I never thought I’d be in this position…but I am. So thank you. It means the world to me. 

The organizer of the baskets hugs a woman we gave to as her husband and daughter stand nearby.

I thought about her comment: she never thought she’d be here. That is so very true. None of know when life could give us some circumstance that throws us into a tailspin. And I know from my personal experience, it is hard to accept help. It is difficult to admit you need assistance. And it is humbling to need help from strangers.

As I watched these women hug, both crying, I felt a mix of sadness and joy. Here I was on Christmas Eve, standing in a parking lot with a bunch of strangers crying, and yet, I felt complete. Yes, I missed my kids and this was not how I envisioned my holiday. It was not even an idea until two days prior. Like the woman receiving the basket of food, I never thought I’d be here either. But here I was, and it felt good to be a part of something so simple and yet special…even if I stumbled into it.

 

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For the Daily Post Discover Challenge ~ Hope Gone Viral.

Update: Since this unplanned plan went so well. The ladies formed a group called the Breakfast Club and we plan to do more donations throughout the year.

And here is a message from the lady with five boys:

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Slightly Scared of Charity


In just a few days, I would be out of Afghanistan and on leave, I thought. I was so excited that I could almost taste home. Prior to leaving, I had one more mission to go on though. And while I was on it, I had moments where I thought I may never make it home.

It was suppose to be a simple mission. I was headed out to a nearby village to hand out humanitarian aide with a Special Forces Group. I was going along to document the mission through photography. I have to admit, I was thrilled to go. As a public affairs officer for a signal task force, there was not necessarily a lot of excitement or interaction with the Afghan people. So, I jumped at the chance to go on a mission. It was a low-threat area and we were just handing out clothes and food. The SF guys wanted to use this opportunity to give specific items to specific people. Baby clothes and food to new mothers. Shoes to young kids. Hats to the teen boys. Interacting with the community also gave us a chance to talk to them, build relationships. And of course, get a feel for what is going on the area.

We loaded up the gator with our boxes of donations and we started walking though the town. Like expected, people started to follow us. We chatted with the kids, handed out candy. We spoke to the adults. We found out their concerns. And through all that we handed out some items to people in need.

Of course, some Soldiers were not involved in the banter. Their job was security. As I snapped away, I tried to be very aware of those Soldiers to watch their cues as they instructed. They knew I was not very experienced in moving through a village. I’ve been on some patrols and convoys over the years, but its not my typical every day mission. So, I have to trust the experts. So of course, I was a little nervous.

As we kept moving through the village, more and more people came. The crowd was not only making me nervous but I could see the security team was not as relaxed as before either. They started pointing things out for me to photograph. Certain people. Odd piles of rocks. They told me to get closer. I was getting a bit uncomfortable and very aware of everything around me. (And, when looking at my pictures, I can tell when the mood changed because the quality of many of my photos diminished greatly. It was like I was just snapping away and not paying as much attention to my craft. I was merely thinking of tactical skills at that point. I was no longer a photograph but a Soldier with a camera.)

What I noticed is that there was now a bigger crowd and they were pressing in on us. The security Soldiers were telling them to back up. They were not listening though. They were trying to grab things off the gator. They were trying to “steal” the things we wanted to give them. My thoughts were very conflicted then. I thought, if we are going to give them these things anyway, why do we care if they take them? Well, we wanted to give the right items to the right people was my answer. Then I felt empathy, thinking how awful it must be to feel that desperate, that in need. And of course, part of me that had never been in the middle of a swarm of people pushing, was scared. I was scared I would get hurt. I was even more scared someone else would get hurt. My fellow Soldiers were in the crowd. There were kids in the crowd. One child fell to the ground. I helped them up and put them near my legs and pulled them with me out of the growing chiaos. Now, I was getting angry at the carelessness of people pushing with no regards to the kids.

To bring the risk to an end, we just walked back from the donations, pulling what small children we saw with us. And we just let them run of with the stuff we wanted to give them anyway. It removed us, and the small kids, from the middle of the pushing and the crowd dispersed.

We headed back to the base shortly after that. I think we had all had enough community interaction by that point.

I look back at this mission years later and think, a few varied thoughts. This is definitely no where near any level of danger that many Soldiers have experienced. As a matter a fact, it would probably be laughed at by some of those hard core troops, and justifiably so. But, I can only tell you about my experiences and how I felt. At that time, I felt conflicted. I was nervous, but still had a job to do. I could see the potential for this situation to go bad as a Soldier and as a public affairs officer. I was trying to think tactically and not do anything that would put my host Soldiers at more risk. I didn’t want to let them down and make the situation worse. I was also thinking…I am about to go on leave, I really hope I get to go.

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For the Daily Prompt ~ Fight or Flight

To see some of the better photos from that mission, check out my photography blog next Thursday, March 5th.