Monday, December 24, 2007

The Christmas Spirit

I read this today and found the story moving. What generous people. Source.

Donn Esmonde: 5-year-olds all deserve a Christmas

There is a Santa Claus. I saw him Friday afternoon. He came to the school filled with 5-year-olds who, despite the places they live, are like 5- year-olds anywhere. The hard streets have not yet sapped their spirit. There is a world of hope in their hearts and a mountain of innocence in their eyes.

Some will keep the hope alive, others will lose it along the way. Some will grow up to be teachers and firefighters, executives and electricians. Others — if the usual odds hold — will grow old beyond their years and dream of little beyond the end of another day.

There is no way of knowing what will happen to these 5-year-olds in 15 or 20 years. But at age 5, on Friday afternoon, they were pretty much in the same place. The world is magical when you are 5. Fantasies of reindeer pulling a sleigh driven by a jolly fellow and filled with toys are as real as a boarded-up house or hard-eyed young men standing on street corners.

It is a wonderful thing when Santa appears in the form of brightly wrapped gifts. Adults slog through packed malls and endure weeks of tinny holiday music to make their kids’ Santa dreams real. We do it for them because we remember how it was for us. The emptied wallets and the gritted teeth are melted by the looks on their faces on Christmas morning.

Every kid deserves that. The ones who deserve it most are usually the ones who get the least. Life is not fair. Kids learn the lesson soon enough. Some of them learn it on Christmas morning.

There are a few dozen 5-year-olds I know who will not learn that lesson, not this year. Friday they wore khaki pants and sky-blue polo shirts with Enterprise Charter School stitched on the front. Nine of every 10 kids in the city school are so poor that the government buys them lunch. Home for a few of them is a homeless shelter. Some have a parent in jail. You know the story. America’s innercity crisis is so common it has, tragically, become a cliche.

The kindergarteners at Enterprise returned to their classrooms from assembly Friday afternoon. A shopping bag filled with gifts was at each of their seats. Months ago, each wrote down three Christmas gift requests. Mixed among the typical — Barbies and Spiderman — were the touching: Flowers for Mom. A doll for a sister. A quilt.

The requests were forwarded to Brian Biggie. The Buffalo attorney knows people at Enterprise. He hears the stories they tell. He decided to play Secret Santa.

Biggie weeks ago e-mailed the kids’ gift requests to fellow attorneys and friends. An anonymous army of “Santas” bought, wrapped and delivered the gifts to Biggie’s office. The Enterprise folks picked them up this week. Friday afternoon, Christmas came to a lot of kids who might otherwise get just a little.

Squeals and screeches filled the air in Melinda Meczynski’s kindergarten class. Desirae is a skinny kid with a wide smile and her hair in beaded braids.

“I got a baby doll with a stroller,” she said, pulling the package out of the gift bag. “I wanted one for forever.”

Felix Rodriguez III fell to his knees, eyes wide, and tore at the box holding a radio-controlled toy car. His father, Felix Jr., sat nearby, a large man in a white coat, as surprised as the boy he had come to take home.

“All my life, I’ve never seen something like this,” said Rodriguez, shaking his head. “I would love to see this for every kid in the city, in every classroom.”

These kids will not stay 5 forever. Innocence flickers and fades. Hope fights to survive on hard streets. But on Friday afternoon, small faces filled with wonder as Santa came alive. It was a moment to remember. It is a day they will never forget.

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