Each year Lynn L’Heureux, Special needs co-coordinator & Advisor of the Society of St Vincent de Paul Calgary Alberta Canada, and her husband look forward to delivering Christmas hampers or baskets for those who fall through the cracks at Christmas. This year she suffered some serious setbacks – her being diagnosed with cancer and the death of beloved brother-in-law. To her surprise these setbacks set the stage for
- involving more people in ministry
- these new servants of the poor discovering the blessings of service
- Lynn and her husband in turn discovering new blessings!
Each year during Advent, Christmas hampers are prepared. My parish of St. Michael’s in Calgary prepared 182. Each organization in Calgary prepares these hampers with a cut- off date. About 8 years ago my husband and I decided we would be the last minute after deadlines deliverers. We raised money separately and gave a very substantial hamper with gifts and food for a month, to those who fell through the cracks.
My family joined in, giving up their Christmas gifts, so others could have them. Two years ago my son got his staff excited about doing this and his friend who owned another company and the list grew. We, with the help of Society of Saint Vincent de Paul presidents chose the families who were most in need and that usually included illness, or recent death or tragedy and very often were immigrants or single parents.
This year was very different for me. I was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery on December 13. The day after my surgery, December 14 my husband’s brother died. Needless to say, I could not deliver the hampers and visit with the people and my husband persevered in his sorrow. . We decided to get others to help with deliveries and they had to receive a quick training. Those who helped had never been near the suffering or those who lived in the darkness of poverty.
My job was to call each one and do the visit by telephone. This became more difficult for me as a few of the recipients knew me from Church and knew I was recovering. They wanted to know why I was doing this instead of doing nothing but resting. It gave the opportunity for me to share the joy of Christ’s light, no matter what is happening. One of wonderful people we serve came to help with the work. She needed to give back and was truly moved.
My phone visits were spent encouraging those in need to get their children and themselves to make a wish list. I had to phone to remind them to make their wish lists move than once and convince them, they were not being greedy, but it would give the shoppers an opportunity to have a variety to choose from, as well as getting them what they really wanted and also what they needed.
Through many conversations, they became excited and the lists were long and fun to sort through. The kids were very excited and the parents thought it was such a good idea and really helped them feel they had been lifted from their poverty, even for a little while. We know Christmas is not about the gifts, but the joy of Christ’s birth and the light He brings along with that joy to everyone.
We asked them to suggest favorite foods and entertainment. We really wanted Christmas to be special for families who barely existed. Sometimes for many God is so far away and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. When you lose hope, it is hard to pull yourself up. We tried to help them by giving them hope and seeing that light get brighter at the end of the tunnel.
Then came deliver day, December 22nd and our chiropractor gave use of his offices to pack the hampers. He and his wife delivered two of hampers. Another hamper was delivered by a care giver and the wife of the patient. This was truly special. The third helpers were in-law family and had always donated but never have helped. The three others were owners of the donating companies and staff members. Of course my husband was also a deliverer.
The comments from the volunteers were so amazing. They felt that what they did was Christmas and everything else would pale compared to the joy of bringing Christ’s light to the door. The care giver and immigrant from South Africa said he had never experienced anything like this and wanted to do it again. My son-in-law got the largest two families because he had a truck and he was overwhelmed with the last family and what they lived in. He recognized then that we have to do more to help lift these people from poverty.
The best was the letters of thanks from every single family. These were heart warming to the staff of the two companies who donated the funds which were matched by the companies. Each family writing the “thank you” note was so moved by the love and sharing of the volunteers.
One story in particular from a man with six kids (one an infant) who did not want to receive help. He was very proud and very ill. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul got a counselor in to convince the man that the help was for his children, because they need extra while he was recovering from his severe illness. His thank you was the biggest of all. We talked many times on our phone visits and he shared how God had left his life and Christmas meant nothing. I told him if God seemed distant, He didn’t move. We are the ones that move from God, He is always there waiting for us to come to Him.
We prayed and he after a few days he had joy in His voice. We talked about seeing Christ, especially in the worst of times and try to turn them into the best of times. This wonderful man told me it wasn’t about the gifts on his list for the many children, but that he knew what they wanted. He said I had stopped sharing with my family and wouldn’t let them love. Now everyday was joyful and that is before he got the hamper, so it was truly about the light of Christ in the life of his family. He told us his family prayed together for all of us.
One thing we did was bring all the toys and gifts covered and gave wrapping paper and tape so the parents could wrap the gifts for the children in the family. All thank you notes included this as the best gift, because it was from them, when they could get nothing.
This truly gave my husband and me a new sense of giving which is usually just part of another day. It made us celebrate differently. We prayed in thanksgiving that evening for our wonderful life and we thanked God for calling us to serve those in poverty. We gave blessings to each other and rejoiced in our sorrow and thanked God for always being there with His great light. We prayed for all Vincentians and for everyone who thought of others this Christmas.
We all need the Light of Christ. It sure shone on me and my family during this special hamper delivery time. It was more than another day. It was joy filled and we were truly surrounded by the light of Christ.