It’s Christmas Season again, and every year, millions of people head to the malls to buy gifts for friends and families. Yet how often do you see pure appreciation as your loved one or your closest friends open their gifts? Yes they appreciate the thought, but how often do you see them beam pure happiness that is true and straight from their soul?
Today I was able to witness appreciation, thanks and kindness in its most purest form. I did not witness it by careful calculated thinking of what gift to get, nor from roaming the malls and doing price comparisons and buying expensive gifts. No. I looked through my house and asked my friends to do the same and collected bags and bags of used items and clothing. My fellow St. John Ambulance brigade members did the same, many bringing food such as boxes of mandarin oranges, bananas, cookies, candy canes, etc and stuffed it all into our ambulances then headed down to Pigeon Park on W Hastings and Carrall (for those who don’t know this area is famous for being Vancouver’s ghetto town, where many drug users and less fortunate live). Here, we ran Operation Mackenzie. We took out our bundles of food, clothing, bags, blankets, pillows and other assorted items and sorted it on the benches in the park. First one or two people started asking questions and looking around, within minutes the park was filled with people and within 45min 97% of what we’ve brought down were gone.
The items were mostly used items, some were brand new, none of it were wrapped. But that didn’t matter to the people there. One lady picked up a sweater, just one wool sweater amongst the many clothing she could have taken. She held it to her chest and looked at me.
“Thank you, thank you so very much!”
Her whole face beamed.
“I don’t have money to get a present, but this, this will be my Christmas present.”
So as a Christmas post, here are a couple of short stories from that night:
I was placing an Acrytex winter jacket on the bench when a man approached me.
Man: Why are you putting out all these clothing?
Me: It’s Christmas so we brought down a bunch of items for you.
Man: (He looked at the jacket). Can I try it on?
Me: Of course!
He takes off his worn but very warm looking jacket made of down with some fur on the hood to try on the new red Acrytex jacket, which is much thinner than his old jacket. Soon, more people started to come take a look at what’s going on. A man came buy and picked up his original jacket.
Man: Hey, hey, sorry, but that’s my jacket.
Blacky: Oh, sorry, I didn’t know.
A second man comes around and picks up his original jacket since he left it on the bench to try on the new jacket.
Man: Oh, that’s my jacket.
The man holding his jacket looks at me.
Me: Yes that’s his jacket.
Now a lady comes by.
Lady: Oh my! What a nice jacket! It looks so warm! Exactly what I was looking for!
Man: Erm…that’s my jacket…
Lady: Oh really…oh what a shame.
She continues looking at the jacket with a hint of sadness in her eyes. The man looks at her again and saw her expression. His face contorts a bit as he struggled with his conscience. The jacket he has on is newer than his old one, but definitely not as warm. After a moment of thought:
Man: You know what, if you want it you can have it.
Man: Yeah, go ahead.
She hugs the jacket, absolutely delighted.
45 minutes later before we left the park:
Man: Merry Christmas and thank you so much.
Me: (I smiled). Merry Christmas.
He gives me his hand and I shake it.
Me: You’re a kind man.
He looked a bit surprised as I headed back to the ambulance as he whispered a thank you into the cold night air.
I know that there are many stereotypical views of the people living in that area, but despite some of the wrong choices they make or may have made, they really know how to take care of each other. It may seem strange, but I think that the people there really represents what an ideal community should be; people taking care of each other. They help each other out and protect each other, we should learn to be more like them. How many of us barely know our neighbors let alone talk to them? Or like this man, willing to give up one of the few possessions he has, albeit a warmer jacket during the cold winter for another?
I had a chat with another man who had made some bad choices but was strong enough to change and make a difference in his community:
Cook: You’re with St. John Ambulance?
Cook: You know, this is great, you have lots of great things here.
Me: Yeah, it’s Christmas so we brought down a bunch of items for everybody.
Cook: You’re the third group here today. There was a church group earlier here today, handing out free cigarettes.
Me: (Really? Seriously? Cigarettes? That’s horrible!)
Cook: You know, it’s great that you people do these things. It really helps and it means a lot…I actually work nearby here.
Me: Oh, where do you work?
Cook: I work in a soup kitchen, actually in several soup kitchens. There are a lot of people who just drink a lot of alcohol and they don’t eat, because when you drink so much you just don’t feel the need to eat. So I try to help out. Actually I had a friend who was like that, just drink and drink, and not getting anything but alcohol into her body.
Me: Yeah, that’s not good.
Cook: Yeah it sure isn’t. Actually my friend, she died from that not too long ago. So I stopped drinking myself.
Me: Good for you.
Cook: That was my second time stopping…I stopped before, but I started again because my wife died from cancer.
Me: Yeah, that must have been tough.
Cook: But then, when my friend died, I knew I had to stop. So I did, I stopped cold turkey. Stopped for several months and started working at the soup kitchens, helping people out, because I know what it’s like.
Me: That’s good. They need people like you.
He smiled from ear to ear, like those words were the best Christmas present ever.
On a more humorous note:
Dreads sees us with our stock of items filled to the roof of the ambulance. He gawks around a bit and exclaims.
Dreads: Wooahhhh!!!! Where’d you steal the ambulances to do this stuff!!!
I look at my superintendent and couldn’t help but grin widely.
Dreads: Where’d you take the ambulance from!??! Howd you get it??
I start chuckling real hard as I exchanged looks with my superintendent.
Dreads: Dude!!! Wow!!!! This is awesome!
Another man sees our superintendent in the St. John yellow florescent jacket.
Grey: Can I have your jacket??
Superintendent looks at him.
Grey: I want one of those firefighter jackets!
Superintendent: It’s the wrong size, it doesn’t fit you…
Of course that didn’t stop him from following him around the rest of the night, gawking at his jacket.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Years 🙂