By Erin LaFrance
For many, the holiday season is a time for celebration. For families living in poverty, the extra expense of the holidays can be a burden. Bellevue LifeSpring’s Holiday Adopt-A-Family™ program matches sponsors with families in need to help ease the financial stress of the holiday season. Sponsors provide food, clothing and gifts during Christmas holidays. Erin was a first-time Holiday Adopt-A-Family sponsor in 2013. She saw firsthand the positive impact that one family can have on another during the holidays.
Life is Uncertain
Life is uncertain. I wasn’t always as secure in my financial situation as I am today and it feels somewhat arbitrary. I remind myself each day that life is still, truly, uncertain.
I found Bellevue LifeSpring through my company’s United Way Day of Caring project and I was compelled by their work. My duty for the Day of Caring was to call previous Holiday Adopt-A-Family sponsors and ask if they would be willing to sponsor a family again. Before we began, an employee hosted a tour where I looked at shelves of the most basic items (canned food, cereal, toothbrushes) while he explained, “We find that people about to lose their power are often hungry too.” My stomach tightened and I was overcome with compassion and sorrow. The shelves seemed too small for such a need and I began to remember.
As a little girl I knew poverty. I was one of four children with very little income and we relied on church thrift closets of free clothes, government cheese and our friends with a farm who gave us fresh milk. Looking back, I realized I may have known poverty but I didn’t know hunger or cold because there were neighbors and organizations that helped us.
As I called through my sponsor list, I listened to person after person say, “Absolutely, I would love to sponsor again.” The generosity of these people, not companies, but people with their own families, signing up to sponsor not just a child but a whole family, settled a purpose in my heart. I wanted to be a part of it, not just in a small way but to go “all in.”
Sponsors could choose a demographic that meant something to them; whether a single mom or a family with similarly aged children to their own. I talked it over with my husband and we sponsored a family of six. Six seemed huge and I wondered how we could afford it but when we looked at the very basic needs on their wish list, we knew we could afford it more than they could.
The Other Side of Uncertainty
We were giddy when we got our family’s details. I never had so much fun shopping for Christmas as I did shopping for my adopted family. I was trying to guess what they would like based upon very limited information. Before this experience, I’d never given Hello Kitty much notice, but that was the little girl’s favorite and I was determined she would have a very Hello Kitty Christmas. I found myself trying on shoes to decide if the child’s sister in college would find them cute but comfortable. I was hopeful learning someone in the family was in college as education is what made the difference for me.
We volunteered to help with the Christmas distribution too. Family after family arrived sending volunteers clambering over each other to help load the cars with donations. The first woman I helped hugged me and thanked me repeatedly. My first instinct was to tell her I was just helping load her car but I realized she needed to thank someone and I was her proxy. I understood as I couldn’t directly thank those that helped me either. I hugged her back and said, “You’re very welcome.”
As luck would have it, I ended up loading my adopted family’s car with the gifts I had bought and so carefully wrapped. I didn’t tell them who I was because that was for me to relish. I used to be on the other side. The side where life is hard and you need help. I was honored and humbled that now I was in a position to help. They were no different than me and I was no different than those who did small favors for my family without whom my childhood would have certainly been very different.
We stayed longer than we signed up for. It was a special, spiritual time although this was not a religious event. It was ordinary people blessing ordinary people in need. It was beautiful and it moved me.
This is the view from the other side of uncertainty knowing that life is inherently uncertain and I could need the help tomorrow. Today, however, I can make a difference.
Learn more about sponsoring or volunteering with Holiday Adopt-A-Family here.