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The holiday season is upon us. Houses are aglow with Christmas lights, the air is filled with the scent of fresh baked cookies, children are making their lists for Santa and attempting to be on their best behavior, and Amazon boxes are arriving by the ton.

Every year, I see stories splashed across the headlines, detailing the good deeds people are doing, the kids receiving surprise visits from Santa, those bringing food to the elderly. Sure, we all drop a toy or two into the donation bins and feel that we’ve done our good deed for the year, but is that all we’ve got? Do we truly understanding how much people need all year long?

So many of us go through the motions with the assumption that everyone has something to celebrate this holiday season, but for so many, that’s not the case. Can you imagine waking up on Christmas morning with no gifts under the tree, or no tree for that matter? Until recently, I, like many of you, dropped a few toys in the donation box, donated a jacket or baby clothes and assumed my effort would make a difference. But then I met Ray and my perspective on the holiday changed.

Ray is someone I came across while doing business in Camden, New Jersey. Ray grew up there and served as Police Chief. Now, he runs his own business and serves as the President of the local business association.

What many people don’t know is that Ray is also Santa Claus.

A few years ago, he mentioned that he runs a toy collection and, like so many others, I thought he meant he was collecting for one of the larger organizations. As we continued our conversations, he explained that they couldn’t get enough organizations to help them to fulfill the need of the city. So he and a few friends decided to take it upon themselves to start a nonprofit and get it done themselves.

I volunteered to help him sort toys into age groups and count them out for each delivery he was making. They had more requests than they could fill, and the personal stories from the families were heartbreaking. Some had lost their jobs and couldn’t afford a single toy for their children; some children lost their parents to sickness and crime; some were grandparents asking for help providing a dinner for their family for the holiday. When I looked up from this pile of requests, tears in my eyes, Ray appeared in a full Santa suit, box truck waiting outside to start their rounds, which would continue up to Christmas Eve. I looked at the few gifts I had purchased and knew I had to do more.

This year, I called Ray and my family adopted another family instead of giving to each other.

I met the mom earlier this week when we dropped off the gifts. My son and I saw pictures of her two boys, talked about the sports they played and what subjects they liked in school. As a single working mom, she can fend for herself, but with a major roof leak and the death of a relative this year, her savings was used to fly the family to the funeral and make the repairs on her house. She told me how she had to explain to her 9 year-old and 12 year-old that she wouldn’t be able to get them gifts for Christmas. Because entitlement is just an expression of privilege, her kids took the news in stride and told her it was OK. So brave, humble, and understanding at such a young age – a true example to all of us.

Being able to help this family reminded me of what this season is about. It’s not about trying to outdo each other to get the best gift or argue over where you are going to spend your holiday, but about doing what you can to help those in need. Everyone deserves to enjoy the magic that comes with this season, and this year, for me, that magic was the gift of giving.

If you’re interested in adopting a family or showing your generosity, please check out Camden High School 79 and Associates

Melissa Wyatt

Boasting with Philly pride, I’m a loud-mouthed Italian mama striving to achieve the perfect combination of marketing guru with a hint of Julia Child, Martha Stewart, and Beyonce.

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