By: Lauren Tankle
I volunteered this holiday season to organize and help distribute Christmas gifts to families in need. I was overwhelmed with the appreciation and relief I could see in the recipients when they chose the gifts for their children to open on Christmas morning. It made me so overjoyed to know that this many families in my community would be having a great Christmas they might not have had if that event did not take place. The hugs from participants who didn’t know me from a hole in the wall really stuck with me throughout the rest of the holiday season.
It wasn’t all happy tears and warm fuzzy feelings, however. I could sense some of the parents were a little embarrassed to be receiving the free gifts. I met a grandmother who had taken in her grandchildren who didn’t foresee this financial situation earlier in the year. They would explain to me that it was unexpected and they didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t help but feel like, maybe,they felt judged by me. I wish I could have told them all that there is so little difference between myself and the parents collecting the gifts despite what side of the table I was standing behind. I don’t know what their idea of me was, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a fraud.
I had a child at a young age. I was a divorced, broke waitress, working an unpaid internship, living in my parents’ house, trying to make ends meet to create a better life for my family; and despite that, the thought of my son not getting any Christmas gifts never had to be a concern of mine. I am privileged.
Parent guilt is a real thing, and I can’t help feeling super guilty sometimes for having family members who helped support me and my family so much during that time of my life. In addition to the benefits I was eligible to receive, such as MassHealth and WIC, my father watched my son while I was in school and working so I didn’t have outrageous child care costs. I often found myself wondering what life would be like if I didn’t have those things to help me and my family. What would I have done? How would I have been able to survive?
Seven years later, I sometimes catch myself taking for granted the fact that I have family members to constantly come to my rescue. If I am running late at work, I have a list of people I can text to see if they would mind picking up my little one or if I want to attend a kid-free event with my friends, I almost always have a babysitter. The only thing that kept me from being the one taking the gifts instead of distributing the gifts was not me, my decisions or my hard work, but the help I received from others and my family. I was on the other side of the table because I had help. Because of this, I tend to go a little over board with charitable contributions around Christmas time, because thanks to the help I got, I can now afford to help others.
I know what it is like to feel embarrassed to use your WIC voucher at the Stop and Shop line. I know what it’s like to lug around a baby and get asked by complete strangers how old you are. I hated that these parents felt that way and even worse that they thought I might have been thinking that way about them, when in reality, I admired them.
If anyone is looking to lend a helping hand next holiday season in the South Shore, MA community, here is a list of great organizations that I saw firsthand have a huge positive impact on local families:
http://www.ccab.org/?q=volunteer (not faith based)