About a month ago, as I thought about Christmas, I had the deep desire to adopt a family. But money has been tight in our house and I knew we could never do it justice, so I just dismissed the notion. Instead, we decided to work at a local soup kitchen on Christmas Day. It still felt cliche, and not quite enough, but what else could I do about it? After all, I’ve been so busy with my college classes.
This past week on Tuesday, I was up late, as usual. The sole one awake, I was surfing news stories online. A dear friend of mine shared a link to a story on her Facebook page: “Family of five ‘pretty much lost everything’ -even Christmas presents-in Maple Grove Township fire.” It was a sad title, and I decided to click on it. “It’s a shame we lost our place to live, but we made it out alive and that’s what counts,” the father was quoted as saying. They had moved in the night before and hadn’t had the opportunity to secure renter’s insurance just yet. They had 3 young kids: ages 6, 4, and 1. They had been sleeping, so time was of the essence. They didn’t even have time to grab shoes or jackets; and it’s cold and wintry out here in Michigan. My heart sank. How in the world are they going to come through this? What the heck would I do?
I have 3 kids as well. My boys are also 6, 4, and 1. I couldn’t believe the parallel! And then I realized: that could be me. We live in a townhouse where we have zero control over what our neighbors do or don’t do. And while we have a small policy for renter’s insurance, we struggle with savings since we are a one-income family. Could we possibly get ourselves back up again if we were so brutally knocked down? And the answer was clear: not on our own.
I thought about calling the number listed in the article right then and there, but I remembered it was 11:30 pm and that’s just not really an acceptable time to call someone. It was a long night waiting to call the family. In the meantime, I put posts out. I told my friends I was going to gather donations and would appreciate their help. My dear friends helped spread the word, and it started to take shape.
By morning, I was dying to call this father and ask if I could gather items to benefit his family. We spoke briefly, and he agreed. I offered to keep the few donations in my basement until he could store them himself. It was a short, brief conversation. I hung up and went to take a shower and get my day started. But something just kept nagging at me. Last year, there was a family who lost everything locally in a fire. The father was a popular local teacher, and the community immediately rallied in support. But very few had offered their support of this family, and I was reminded once again how that would be me. I called the father back and asked if I could, instead, arrange a community drive and contact the local news stations. Sure, that would be fine. Little did either of us know what that would mean.
I immediately set to work. I called a local coffee shop known for their hospitality and asked if we could host it there. Gladly, they agreed and wrote us on the calendar. I began canvassing the local radio and television news stations. This was Wednesday. I don’t know how many places I called, how many e-mails I sent, or how many links I smeared across Facebook, but it was an insane amount. I started a Facebook event and plastered the link across all my friend’s pages. I was bound and determined to have someone respond just from being tired of hearing from me! But I only had 3 days and I was going to do everything I could to pull it together.
By Wednesday evening, I had pled my case to the reporter who originally covered the fire, a man who wrote for our local newspaper. He called me and got details, then wrote up an article. This gave me much-needed ammunition and an extra link to spread around! The ball had started rolling!
Thursday afternoon I began getting frustrated that no one was calling me back. I was sure we had a good story; why wouldn’t someone help me promote it? We live in a city rampant with violence and death – it would be nice to push a positive ending to a tragic fire. I was amazed when, Thursday evening, I received a call from a major disc jockey in our area who wanted to cover the story. Would I be willing to get up and be interviewed at about 6:45am on Friday? Now for those who know me, this was comical: I am not a morning person. My husband chuckled when he read an article that claims they’ve determined there’s a “morning-person gene” because he’s certain I don’t possess it. But I agreed because coverage is coverage and Johnny Burke has a large fan-base.
Friday morning, I had an awesome interview with a kind-hearted Johnny Burke who helped urge everyone to help. By 7:30am, the calls started coming in and they didn’t stop until late that evening! The morning saw calls from complete strangers, another radio disc jockey offering the support of his affiliated radio station to provide new Christmas presents for the kids, and the offer of an anonymous $500 donation purchase of anything the family still may need. I was amazed. Friday evening, I received a phone call from one of the television news stations, asking if I would do an on-air interview the next morning at 8:15am. I was rejoicing in the coverage we finally were receiving!
Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early and waited for my phone call from the TV station to do my on-air interview. A few minutes of on-hold waiting, and the news anchor was interviewing me live. It was amazing to know our cause would finally be reaching a larger audience! I hung up with a big smile on my face. It was going to be a great day. The news station planned on sending a crew member out to film, provided nothing major came up.
I got ready and headed into the coffee shop. I had no idea what I was going to find. I feared that it wasn’t going to be big and I was going to feel responsible for a flopped benefit. I feared people were too cold, too timid since it was a stranger, too unwilling to help. I feared until I walked through those doors. Already piled in the coffee shop were gifts of all kinds. Donations of gently used items, new toys, cash donations, promises of furniture…and our benefit drive hadn’t even begun yet! I was amazed. I set up a table, secured a small area to stack the gifts, and began waiting. Almost immediately, the public started arriving. Gifts, donations, cash, tears, stories of their own losses to fire over the years, blessings for happiness for this family, and love began pouring out of our community, once ranked the most violent in the nation per capita.
Before long, the news crews began arriving. Not one, not two, but all THREE of the news crews showed up and began interviewing me and promoting the story of this young family who lost everything and the community who rose up to bring hope to complete strangers. The moments were touching, so many people were brought to tears. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – our community heard, listened, and responded.
As the day drew to a close, we realized we had far too much to pile into our vans and deliver to the family. I began to scramble around to secure a moving van to haul the precious gifts away. Some smooth talking and quick planning resulted in a truck and with the help of several staff members of the coffee shop, the items completely packed the back of a 14 foot moving van. It was so beautiful!
I took my 3 crabby children home while my incredible husband drove the big beast of a truck downstate. I was bummed to not be there to see their reactions when they peered into the truck or opened the envelope of money to help them, but I am no good driving a massive truck and my kids were melting down from exhaustion. So instead I went home and waited.
My husband says that when he opened the back of the truck, all anyone could say was “whoa….” The dad began crying. Everyone was so grateful that our community rose up to help them with so many items they would need. We were able to provide so precious many toys for those children, new clothes, and pertinent kitchen items.
And as I listened to my husband’s words, my heart soared. You see, they may have received the items, the cash, the promise of furniture to get back on their feet, but I received a revived confidence in this beautiful, scarred community we live in. I will never look at Christmas the same, and this will always remain one of the most blessed events I’ve ever been a part of. It all started with a simple link, a gesture to read a heart-breaking story about a family who lost everything; a simple phone call and the desire to do more. But it ended with a memory of the love that a community can bestow upon a complete stranger in need.
And that is an incredible, amazing, beloved miracle.
About Jen Salowitz
I am a mama to 3 boys. I strive to live a greener, healthier live while preserving my children's innocence. I enjoy reading, learning more about natural birth and health-care, and playing the piano!