On Saturday, Dec. 20, a team of Red Cross volunteers spent the day spreading holiday cheer to Central New Jersey families who recently experienced a home fire. The annual Red Cross Holiday Gift Run is a volunteer led program that matches the wish lists of affected children with generous donors in the community. The culmination of hundreds of hours of volunteer effort is the day that Santa and his team of elves head out into the community.
On the surface, the holiday gift run seems simple. It’s a team delivering presents, holiday spirit and hope to families that can use a smile. But then again, nothing is quite as simple as it seems. You see, the holiday gift run is much more than that. Every family we visit has recently suffered a home fire. For some, the emotions of that disaster are still raw.
A typical experience – we find the house, we ring the bell, the door opens and there are ear piercing squeals of delight as the kids realize that Santa and his elves are at their house. There are lots of smiles on the faces of the children as the bag of gifts is handed out and the wrapping paper seems to disintegrate from each of the packages.
The team takes a moment to look around the room – and there you see it. Usually off to the side or to the back of the room, the adults are taking a moment to take a deep breath. A volunteer steps over to have a quiet word with the parent or relative, who is often wiping tears from their eyes. We talk about how they are doing since the fire, we talk about the grinning children opening gifts and we share a moment where hope is indeed alive and well.
For several of the families, the Red Cross disaster volunteer that was there the night of their fire is here on this day spreading holiday cheer. It is difficult to explain the bond that forms between a Red Cross volunteer and the families they assist. Often, it is not a spoken word but rather a look that says “It’s a relief to have someone standing by my side and giving me a shoulder to lean on today.” On the Holiday Gift Run, we reconnect and talk about their recovery since the fire and then we are overcome with the holiday magic occurring in the living room.
From the vocal six-year-old who squeals “Oh Momma, that’s just what I wanted!” to the more subtle teenager who just says “Whoooaaa,” the day is simply magical. After the laughter and tears of joy, it’s time to sing a holiday song. We get confirmation that the holiday spirit is in the air – even the teenagers are singing along!
At the end of the day, the Red Cross team takes the time to reflect on their favorite moment of the day. In the simplest terms, it boils down to humanity. It’s that tear of joy, that ear-to-ear grin, the feeling in your gut that tells you that this family is going to be just fine. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holidays – can you?
The Holiday Gift Run is made possible thanks to generous donations by employees at Wilkin & Guttenplan, P.A. in East Brunswick and members of the New Jersey Physician Assistant Foundation who helped fulfill the children’s holiday wish lists. In addition, thanks to Rutgers Recreation, the Red Cross Holiday Gift Run is one of the designees of toys collected from participants of the Rutgers Big Chill 5K.
– Elf Julie
By Julie Daigle
volunteer, American Red Cross North Jersey Region
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