The season of giving has come and gone, and as it seems to happen every year, it is replaced with the season of judgment of how those who may have asked for help handle that help. People who have never been in the humbling position take to social media to shame and belittle others.
In my life, I have been fortunate enough to be on both sides of the Angel Tree. The Christmas after high school, I worked as the Christmas Kettle Coordinator for our local Salvation Army. My former in-laws were pastors in the organization, and therefore I have spent years on the administrative side, working, volunteering, sorting, categorizing and more.
I have also been at points in my life, such as during our divorce, where I have spent hours lying awake at night trying to work some sort of magic that would allow my children to have both a magical Christmas morning and the heating bill to be paid. It is not an easy place to be.
Before I go further let me take a moment to say, Yes, there absolutely are people who abuse the system. There are people who are users and will manipulate and abuse whatever they can. They are terrible, and we can all acknowledge they exist.
However, the trend to cast ALL people who ask for help into that category sickens me.
Asking for help is hard. It is embarrassing. It is humbling. It is walking into an office and telling a relative stranger that you cannot be the parent you want to be.
Once that is done, once you have shoved your pride deep down and admitted that you can’t do it alone, and the stranger has verified your income is low enough, that yes, you do in fact need help, your family is assigned a number.
At this point there are two main ways that organizations handle this.
In some locations, your child’s wishes are listed on an “Angel” and a good Samaritan will shop specifically for your child. Any and all items received for that number will be packaged together for that child. In many of these scenarios, if there are multiple children in the home, the amounts received can be a bit lopsided.
One child’s Angel may have been taken by a family who provides clothes, toys, some candy and more, while the siblings Angel may have been taken by a person who can only afford one item.
The recipients are no less grateful.
I was the recipient of this type of program one year. On distribution day, I was handed a large black garbage sack, containing pre-selected gifts for my children.
Upon inspection, while still immensely grateful, my stomach fell. For my daughter, there were two dolls, one a Bratz Doll, which she was not allowed to play with, and the second, a Barbie that she already owned. I could just imagine her face on Christmas morning, questioning her mom as to why I would get her the same Barbie.
So, I did the exact thing that social media trolls light the torches and sharpen the pitchforks about, I took them back to the store where I received an in-store gift card. I then spent that card to replace the dolls with ones that she would be able to enjoy. I did this because even though I was poor, I still knew my kids and wanted what was best for them.
The other popular option for charitable organizations id what is known as a “Toy Shop.” In this scenario, toys and clothes are collected and sorted based on age, gender, and sometimes basic price point (electronics and stuffed animals are counted differently sort of thing).
In the toy shop setting, on distribution day, parents are invited to come and walk through, usually with a guide or helper. They are directed to select a certain number of items from each section, such as two clothing items, two smaller ticket items, and one larger. The administrative work behind the scenes and the need of the family typically determines the amount.
In the toy shop setting, the parent is allowed to be involved, essentially shopping for their child. One goal of this type of distribution is to be able to prevent the scenario that I encountered with my daughter. Parents, even poor or low-income ones, know their kids, much better than the random person who selected an Angel from a tree.
In the large black garbage bag, the majority of the items I received were sports themed, as I have multiple boys and that is a safe assumption. That works for one of my boys but would crush his brother if I gave him a basketball.
Additionally, most toy distribution organizations will tell parents that the items are meant to supplement their Christmas, but not to be the entire thing.
I have read so many posts in the past few days, disparaging the parent who may need to return an item. I have read comments from one woman who stated that she no longer gave since the toy did not go directly to the child she picked it for.
There is so much judgment. So much cruelty. So much insensitivity.
As the mom who has been among the “poor” during the holidays, who has asked for help, who has returned the Angel Tree gift, and who loves her kids just as much as anyone else, I would like to say enough is enough.
Unless you take the time to talk with that parent, then what they are doing doesn’t concern you. The gift is about the kids, not about how you feel. If you are donating for the warm fuzzy feeling and the pat on the back, you are doing it wrong.
To the parent who is still there, you’ve got this. I see you. I am you. I support you.