Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Christmas Wish That Almost Wasn't: How We Pulled Together to Pull Off A Christmas Miracle

My frustration level has been through the roof with the recent turn of political events, as you are all aware. Sometimes it makes me wonder if we have lost our sense of national priorities. Once upon a time in this country, a thriving middle class was good for everyone, economically speaking. Do we still desire the common good? Is small-d democracy alive? Or are "noblesse oblige" and its cousin, the American Dream extinct? Are Americans, as a people, still inherently good?

I rarely talk about the elementary school where I serve as principal. I try to keep work and politics separate. So, let's forget politics and think about Christmas. Troops in Afghanistan far from home at Christmas: something everyone can support. Are you with me? and I will do my best to keep politics out of it. Deal?

So, one of my wonderful staff asked if we could start a care package drive for her Hubby's battalion in Afghanistan. We had about two weeks before we absolutely had to ship via Priority mail. She estimated we'd probably be able ship about 10 or 12 boxes. Would we get a good response? So many other activities were going on at the time...the school's long-standing food drive, holiday plays, craft fairs and more. People were busy this time of year. Would folks be able to focus on one more good turn this holiday season?

My colleague came up with a wish list of items that are most desired and needed by the troops: chap sticks, lotion, air fresheners, hard candy, jerky, socks, decorations, letters and cards, and more. Classes were asked to choose one item and ask families to provide one of that item. Then my colleague and another of my great teacher's classes would decorate bags, fill and pack them to ship. A real group effort.

Seemed simple enough, so we put it out there in an email, and waited to see who wished to participate. Not only did every class participate, but the office staff and special ed teachers did as well. And once the staff found out that the teacher who originated the idea was going to pay for shipping, well, they wouldn't let her, and all donated enough to pay for the anticipated 10-12 boxes. That's my wonderful staff for you - completely in character.. So we were all set. The plan was set in motion, and it was ready to go.

The day for pick-up arrived, and kids went around collecting from each class. And it became evident quite quickly that we had more support than we bargained for. We had boxes overflowing with supplies, cards and letters! The kids began decorating bags, filling them with socks and chap sticks, candy canes, hand-made ornaments, and letters addressed to "American Hero" in a little one's best printing. The boxes kept filling up, with 4-5 care packages in a box. Aides filled out 40 customs forms and labels addressed to the battalion's chaplain, who would receive and distribute the packages. After 15 boxes, I made a run to the post office and grabbed a flat of 25 more boxes. When I returned, we kept packing. All in all, the kids and their families had donated enough goodies to make over 200 care packages for our troops.

Fantastic, right? It really was. And heartwarming. We needed to ship by Friday to get the care packages there on time. That's when we realized that we were extremely short of funds to ship an overwhelming response of forty boxes of priority the tune of an additional $350! And with only 24 hours to go!!!

We were in a quandary. We couldn't disappoint the troops or the kids who'd worked so hard to make the care packages happen. We could let the military send the care packages, but they wouldn't arrive until late January or early February. Or, in 24 hours, we could see if we could find a way to raise the additional $320 we needed to get the packages to the troops on time. Being the eternal optimists we are, we chose the latter.

We sent an email to our staff, asking them to talk to everyone they knew to see if anyone could donate, a little or a lot. Several staff members and I brainstormed via text for hours about how to raise the funds. I sent talking points with Little Man and Tweenie the next morning, as they wanted to ask their friends and teachers to give to the cause. (Little Man wanted to donate his $60 of allowance and birthday money, and was pretty perturbed when I wouldn't let him...How I love that boy and his big heart!) The Hubby scoffed, but took the talking points with him anyway. One of our wonderful aides called every radio station in town, and got one to bite - they talked about our project on-air and put us on their Facebook page. We tried to get the word out in every way we knew how.

My colleague was hopeful, but that's a lot of moolah to raise in a 24 hour period, after all. But if a Christmas miracle was going to happen, it'd happen here. Our school is am amazing place, with a huge, collective heart. I knew we'd find a way. We had to. I told my friend to go home, that we'd done all we could do, and to get ready to call the local American Legion, their Auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the morning.

Unfortunately, the next morning, my teacher's classroom was flooded, and she had her hands full - no calls were made to the Legion, or anyone else. But word began to spread about our generous kids and staff and the help we needed to make their good works fly, most literally! I received texts throughout the day from Tweenie: $38! $40! $43! At day's end, $48. $5 more from Little Man's middle school buddies - lots of change and lots of caring. The Hubby's generous employers gave us $100 toward the cause as soon as they heard our dilemma, and another employee donated $20. One of my staff raised another $100 from a local car dealer. Families started trickling in with $6, with $1, having heard our plight on the radio or on the station's Facebook page. $21 more from one of our retired teachers. And later, the radio station's dj's came by, in person, with nearly a hundred more. One woman gave her last three dollars cash to our teacher talking to her in the line at the grocery store. Money trickled in all day. And one of our dear staff members, quietly and behind the scenes, came to me and let me know she would cover $200 of the remainder. That's just the kind of kind-hearted school family we have. She'd been extremely generous already, so she agreed to be our insurance policy. But we were getting pretty close. By day's end, we had what we needed, and got our care packages shipped off, with the help of a terrific local post office gal who probably has carpal-tunnel from all that stamping..thanks, Marcie!

Three hundred and fifty dollars in twenty-four hours. The generosity of friends, and of strangers. A community that pulled together for a common cause. Kids that know they can make a difference, and troops that know someone back home is thinking about them this holiday season. No matter what else is going on in the world, we had our own Christmas miracle. And in the process, reinforced for our students and themselves, that people still want to do good. If given the chance, folks will step up and help to do what's right. Three hundred and fifty times over.

Whatever happens in Washington this holiday season, and whatever happens in the world, know that there are still people who are generous in spirit and in action. Take heart, and do your part to spread that good faith in your fellow man this Christmas. Let's hope the politicians will have a softening of their hearts for the poor, the unemployed and working families this season as well. (I almost made it without mentioning politics!) ;) Merriest of holidays from the Politico house to yours this Yuletide season. May all the joy and blessings of the time find you and your family.