Holiday memories of helping others worth sharing

Jan. 26, 2013 @ 01:22 AM

We have put way the lights, removed the trees and packed away the wrapping paper until next December. The holidays are behind us, and we have resumed our normal routines.

But there are still holiday memories that will be worth sharing for years to come. The Volunteer Center of Durham’s staff has some worth sharing that show what the generosity of this community can do.

Through the Thanksgiving Dinners Program, which serves Durham County Department of Social Services clients whom social workers refer based on need, people who offered to provide meals and donors who provided funds for the Volunteer Center staff to purchase meals could feed 2,127 people. Despite that high number, there remained a significant need for nutritious meals – particularly cooked ones, which often were needed by elderly or disabled residents no longer able to cook for themselves, or for families in living situations without a working kitchen.

Two of the Volunteer Center staff had a particularly moving encounter with a family to whom they were delivering the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Volunteers and staff members had gathered at the Chicken Hut to pick up cooked meals to take to clients. The volunteers ranged from a terrific group of young men from N.C. Central University who had contacted us in hopes doing some good in neighborhoods surrounding the university, to Realtors to retirees.

Betsy Voorhees and Lynn Odom took a delivery route that took them to a motel on Holloway. There they found a family of seven living in the room. The dad is working as a handyman at the motel to keep a roof over his family’s head. When the food arrived, the children were jumping up and down, absolutely overjoyed at the prospect of a special meal for Thanksgiving – something so many people take for granted.

In other instances, an elderly woman wondered if all the food she was receiving from Parker & Otis was all for her. Volunteers described getting hugs, “God bless you,” and an outpouring of appreciation from people who wanted very much to celebrate Thanksgiving, but who had no additional funds to purchase extras for the meal. World Overcomers Church donated 350 meals – an incredible number – and then did more meals on top of that in Raleigh and Chapel Hill.

To the generous people in this community who did not have the opportunity to deliver meals but who gave money, this is a glimpse that played out over and over again of what you helped provide. To those who provided and delivered cooked and uncooked meals to people, you have your own stories that people in the community would love to hear.

With the Volunteer Center’s other holiday program, Share Your Christmas, 3,098 residents received gifts. Many people describe this program, which turns 38 in 2013, as helping them refocus on the meaning of Christmas. Kathy Schenley of Chapel Hill described it this way: “Adopting a family has made Christmas shopping a joy rather than a chore. It has also helped my extended family to refocus our celebration on the meaning of the season rather than on material things.” The recipients truly appreciate the thoughtfulness and generosity.

Three stories show what an impact this program can have.

Betsy Voorhees staffed the gift distribution center at Northgate Mall, where sponsors could drop off gifts if they did not want to deliver directly to the family, and where the social worker or client could then pick up. A little boy came with his mother to pick up their gifts. His mother, trying to keep the gifts a surprise for the child’s Christmas, told him they were picking up for someone else.

As a bike was wheeled out, the little boy’s eyes lit up. His mother gently reminded him it was for someone else. As she took the bike out to the parking lot, the little boy decided to wait in the gift distribution center. He walked into the bike room, eyed Voorhees, and told her he sure would like a bike.

There was one bike left, but for a much bigger boy. The little boy turned his face up to her and said very definitively that if she could give him that bike, he could learn to ride it. She explained it was for an older boy, but who knew what would happen Christmas morning. And then he asked her if the gift distribution center was where Santa came to pick up presents. Someone out there made that child extraordinarily happy the morning of Dec. 25.

What might not always be evident, though, is the long-term good this program does, again, through the generosity of people who give. The last two memories the Volunteer Center staff wanted to share with the greater community from Share Your Christmas 2012 show the longer lasting effects that are possible.

There also was a sponsor who called a mother because she had not requested gifts – she only wanted for her children. The sponsor coaxed her, saying surely there was something she needed. As relayed by the social worker, the mother told the sponsor they needed a dining room table, but she knew that was out of reach. The sponsor, in addition to the children’s gifts, bought a dining room table for that mother.

When the social worker called her a few days after the family had received their gifts, the mother said, “You won’t believe what we’re doing right now. We are eating dinner together for the first time as a family around the dinner table.” That family, thanks to this very generous sponsor, will have memories moving forward, stemming from this Christmas, as they share news of their days at meal time. And studies have shown the importance of families eating meals together.

The final memory the Volunteer Center staff would like to share from this year’s program came about thanks to The Herald-Sun. Someone at a local company had been reading the profiles of the families hoping to be sponsored that The Herald-Sun runs every year. Several families this year were participating because Mom or Dad had been laid off. After reading the profiles, the employee called the Volunteer Center to ask if word could be relayed to the social workers for some people whose profiles had appeared that this company was getting ready to hire. That kind of thoughtfulness and effort to help people make the staff at the Volunteer Center so thankful to be able to connect people through this program.

The Volunteer Center wishes everyone a happy 2013, and our staff looks forward to again working with sponsors, donors and DSS clients next November and December through our holiday programs.

The Volunteer Center strengthens nonprofits, promotes volunteerism, and enhances community leadership. To learn more about our programs, please visit our website