The Gift of Giving: Sponsor a Local Family in Need for the Holidays

“This experience changed our Christmas. Seeing the hardship of others and acting to alleviate it had a big impact on my whole family. I know on Christmas morning, as my kids opened their own gifts, they saw everything with new eyes.”

Britepaths’ Former Holiday Program Manager Laura Vaughn sponsored a family for the holidays and learned that by doing so, she and her family received far more than they gave. She and her sister Deb Werrlein, a Fairfax-based writer, are long-time supporters of Britepaths’ work, and Deb is relating Laura’s story.

While serving as Holiday Program Manager several years ago, I took a phone call from a mother who I’ll call Sally. Sally wanted to know, “Can I add furniture to my Holiday Program wish list?”

“I suppose so,” I answered. It was an unusual request. “What kind of furniture are we talking about?”

She broke my heart instantly. “I need a bed for my oldest daughter,” she said. “Or even just a mattress. I have four girls sleeping on one twin mattress and my oldest, she’s seven, is so frustrated because the youngest wets the bed all the time.”

Four little girls in one twin bed? I felt terrible. But also, I couldn’t believe the coincidence of it. My husband and I had a duo bunk we no longer needed. Just a few nights before, we’d discussed options for donating it to charity.

I didn’t stop to think. “I’m sponsoring you,” I said. I had been planning to sponsor a family, but hadn’t done it yet. I admit I’d felt a little nervous about how it would go, what I’d have to do, whether we could afford it.

The coincidence of the bed erased my reservations. Also, I’d wanted to help a family with young children so that my own teen children could relate. These girls were 2, 3, 4, and 7 years old. It was perfect.

The rest of Sally’s list looked more typical. The three younger girls wanted a Baby Alive doll, the oldest wanted a digital camera, and they all needed warm winter boots.

I sent my oldest daughter shopping for the dolls with her two younger sisters. They had a blast because there are several versions of the doll: one bounces, one drinks and wets, etc. All of the dolls made different baby noises. We giggled at the sounds they made inside our closet for two weeks. Everyone was so excited to deliver those dolls!

In addition to the dolls, we found miniature purple boots for the three younger girls and an inexpensive kids’ digital camera for the oldest. Last, my daughters picked out Santa wrapping paper and labels.

Meanwhile, my teen son took the bed over and set it up before Christmas. He felt so invested in the project that he brought the kiddy sheets we no longer needed and made the beds up for them.

It’s not easy to get four teen siblings in one place at one time, so it was a rare moment of togetherness when I got everyone to help me wrap and label the gifts. We were ready!

Sally hoped to surprise her daughters, so we planned that she would sequester them in their rooms for the delivery. We should have known that would never work. When I knocked on the door, the girls answered by scrambling and squealing on the other side: “It’s Santa’s elf! It’s Santa’s elf!” Sally let me in once she’d corralled the girls upstairs.

The Christmas tree stood in the corner of their living room. It had no lights or ornaments, and Sally confessed she found it on the side of the road. I felt like I should have brought some decorations but she said, “No.  They’re just so happy we have a tree it doesn’t matter.”

As we carried in the gifts, the girls inched down the stairs one-by-one, unable to contain themselves.  “Let me see! Let me see!” they giggled as they clamored over each other, their little voices overcome with excitement.  They were so cute and sweet I thought I would burst.

The oldest daughter helped to arrange the gifts; Sally laid down the law about waiting for Christmas morning, and we bid our holiday farewells.

This experience changed our Christmas.  Seeing the hardship of others and acting to alleviate it had a big impact on my whole family.  I know on Christmas morning, as my kids opened their own gifts, they saw everything with new eyes.

After the holidays, Sally’s oldest daughter called and thanked me.  Sally called and wrote as well.  In talking to her further, I learned that she was separated from her husband.  Her mother helped out while she worked during the day and attended school at night.  The gifts we brought were the only ones.

“You made our Christmas,” she told me.

But it’s no exaggeration to say that they made ours.

Sponsor a Local Family in Need for the Holidays

Can you help a family like Sally’s that lives in the Fairfax County area and is struggling to make ends meet? As Laura’s family learned, sponsoring a family to provide holiday meals and gifts for their children is a fun and meaningful way for families, coworkers and community groups of all kinds to come together and make a real difference for a family in need.

Visit Britepaths’ Holiday Program page at britepaths.org to register to Sponsor a Family or to provide a donation that will help Britepaths assist a family who is not matched with a sponsor. Or mail a check to Britepaths Holiday Program, 4080 Chain Bridge Road, 2nd Floor, Fairfax, VA 22030.

Deb Werrlein
Deb Werrlein is a freelance writer/editor who lives and works in Fairfax County. She has a Ph,D. in English from the University of Maryland and currently writes for local education and health organizations. Other writing has appeared in a variety of newspapers, literary magazines, and academic journals.