The weeks leading up to Christmas here at Cornerstone are a glimpse into what I imagine Santa’s workshop would be like. A constant bustle of deliveries, organizing toys, gift wrapping and agonizing over what to give teenagers. Between hanging holiday decorations and consuming copious amounts of caffeine, we strive to create a sense of normalcy and celebration for our shelter guests. After all, just because they are experiencing homelessness doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to have an amazing Christmas.
In preparation, our case workers sit down with parents weeks ahead of time to make note of who likes Doc McStuffins, which child is Lego obsessed and what things mom could use for the new baby on the way. With these lists in hand we head back to our workspace at Wilson Abbey to get to work. Then, a few days before Christmas we wait until the kids are at school to deliver truckloads of gifts to the parents.
Donors sometimes get upset that they can’t give their gifts directly to the kids in our programs, but we’ve found that handing them off to parents is its own special kind of gift. It can’t be purchased in any store or sent via next day delivery. The gift of dignity is much harder to give. By stepping out of the picture we can give parents the joy of providing Christmas for their kids during one of the most difficult times in their lives.
In Romans 12:9-10 it says ”Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other.” As Christians serving the marginalized at Christmas shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to love and lift up? Unfortunately, we often encounter a mindset that says “we don’t want people to get too comfortable” or overly elaborate agendas that are well-meaning but ultimately miss the mark.
Sometimes leaving our good intentions at the cross frees us up to simply take delight in honoring one another. These parents are disheartened and tired. They could use some building up. We see the weight they’ve been shouldering alone and this is an opportunity to help them feel valued and validated. They have already been working so hard toward getting their families out of crisis and into housing. Alleviating the financial strain of the holidays helps ensure that they are able to stay on track toward signing that lease. Sharing this portion of life’s path is something we don’t take lightly and we hope that parents can leave feeling both empowered and cared for once moving day finally arrives. In the meantime though we’re still wondering what teenagers want for Christmas and would welcome any ideas you may have!
Sarah moved into the community the winter of 2015 with a plan to stay nine months before moving onto other things. Five transformative years later, she can’t remember ever feeling more purpose filled, grounded in her faith or connected to others than she does now. Part of her JPUSA journey has included serving as Volunteers Coordinator at Cornerstone Community Outreach for two years. Most recently she works at the shelter as a part of our social media team and as the Operations Manager of our eBay store where we turn high end donations into funding for our shelter programs. Outside of work she loves hosting new interns, going on food adventures, and being a tourist in her own city.