December 21, 2012

Unexpected Gifts

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“Is it time to put the presents under the tree Mommy?” My three year old daughter Gabrielle looked up at me, as the lights from our Christmas tree reflected in her pleading eyes. I reached out and squeezed her tiny outstretched hand. “No honey. We’ve got to wait just a little while longer.”

Its part of our young family’s budding Christmas traditions. My husband and I wait until the night before Christmas to pile the gifts under the tree for Gabby and her little brother Alex. When they wake Christmas morning and scramble downstairs, their eyes widen in surprise as they see the brightly colored packages gathered around the tree.

As I rush to complete the last bit of Christmas shopping, I have no doubt that my children are blessed. They’ll receive more gifts than they can probably count and much more than they’re likely to remember. Like any parent, I want the best for my children and I cherish the joy I see in their eyes on Christmas morning.

Today I saw that same gleam of joy and wonder on the faces of children at Denver’s Columbine Elementary school. HUD staff members, with Santa’s help, handed out gift bags containing brand new shoes and socks. For more than a decade, the Region VIII staff has taken part in this Annual Holiday Gift Program to benefit Denver Public School Head Start students. These students come from predominantly low-income families who are at or below the poverty level.

This year more than 125 HUD employees donated a record 306 pairs of shoes and socks to children ages 3 to 5 years old. HUD’s Rocky Mountain Deputy Regional Administrator, Dan Gomez Jr., remarked on this year’s participation. “I am so proud of all the members of our Denver team who donated their time, energy and effort to make this year’s shoe drive such a success. It’s an excellent example of their genuine desire and commitment to meet the needs of the community, no matter how small.” He went on to say, “When you see the smiles on these kids’ faces, you only want to do more.”

HUD’s Multifamily Director of Project Management, and one of the organizers of this year’s event, Linda Cluck, looked across the bustling room of children as they marveled at their gifts. When asked why she participates in the event year after year, she said with tears in her eyes, “This might be the only gift these kids get this year.”

The school’s Family Liaison Specialist and Case Worker, Nydia Gonzales agreed. “We’ve got a lot of single parents this year and a lot of single dads. Most of these children exist below the poverty level and come from large families, so to be able to have their own pair of shoes that they don’t have to share with a sibling…it’s huge for them.” It’s also a reminder of just how fortunate we all are and how even a small gift like a pair of shoes can mean so much to a child.

As the event drew to a close and the last gift was given, I couldn’t help but think back to my own children and the many gifts that would be waiting for them on Christmas morning. Maybe this year we could begin a new family tradition; one that would teach my children the joy of not only receiving a gift but in giving one. And as I closed the classroom door behind me, resolved now to give my children the gift of a generous heart, I realized that in a small way, the children of Columbine Elementary had given me a gift as well.

Happy Holidays.

Charlene Guzman is the Regional Public Affairs Officer for HUD’s Region 8.

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