a different kind of secret santa helps families in need

A Secret Santa Helps Families In Need

A holiday gesture becomes a family tradition

The woman I’ll call Kate, an HR executive, prefers to tell this story anonymously, for reasons that will become clear. It was a holiday season about five years ago when Kate received a message from her father, asking various family members how they would feel if, instead of giving each other Christmas presents that year, the family gave money directly to a family in need. “He didn’t have anyone in mind,” Kate said, “he just thought, Every year around the holidays there are all these solicitations for donations to charities, and while that’s great and people should totally do that, would it have more impact if you just donated the money you’re going to donate during the course of the year to one person? And potentially, if you could get enough money for someone who is in need of some assistance, you might actually have a pretty significant impact to help somebody.”

The family, needless to say, was on board with the project. “We thought it was a great idea,” Kate told Good Turns recently. “We all contributed some money. And then my dad, who is super low-key, he had connected with the priest in his local parish, because he didn’t want any fanfare around it, he just wanted to have them help identify somebody for whom this would be impactful, and coordinate getting it to them anonymously without them having to feel they have to make this big show of being grateful. He didn’t want there to be a burden on top of the gift part of it.”

“It’s not enough to just be individually successful, but being a good citizen and good person in the world is also part of the experience of being a good human”

“I wanted to help a family that (a) needed the help, and (b) that would likely use the money to survive and hopefully to try to get back on their feet,” Kate’s father said in an email. “I didn’t want to hand them the money myself, so I asked our parish priest to identify a family that needed the kind of help I mentioned and then to provide them the money anonymously for us. I wanted it to go through the church so that the recipient would not feel in any way indebted to me or that they even owed us a thank you. It was a good feeling to know that through nothing more than good fortune we were able to directly help someone in a meaningful way.”

That first year, the family raised $10,000. “I thought that was a good thing to have done,” Kate said. But what she didn’t know until recently was that her father has kept up the tradition each year since. “I had no idea he kept going with this!”

But, Kate said, the move is not that surprising, coming from her dad. “He’s a successful guy and he’s an entrepreneur and he has started a bunch of businesses over the years and has done well,” Kate says. “But he was born on a dairy farm. He was the first in his family to have that kind of a career, and he has always been this kind of low-key person in terms of money. He shops at regular stores. He’s just not flashy like that. So this kind of thing is entirely in character for him.”

That kind of approach to life has definitely rubbed off on Kate, she reports. “Most of my family are very generous and kind people, he’s just been a little better positioned to be able to do more,” she says. “In our family there’s always this idea that it’s not enough to just be individually successful, but being a good citizen and good person in the world is also part of the experience of being a good human. There’s a quote that says something like, You should either give money or time, whatever you have more of. I know we’ve all, in the family, talked about that. Given what kind of year I’m having, I may have more money, I may have more time. So I do both of those things. Because I work in HR, I volunteer to help people when they’re job-hunting, rewriting resumes, I coach people how to negotiate on salary. I’m currently working with some community organizations to try to do that on a larger scale, partnering with libraries as a volunteer thing, where people could come ask questions and we could look at resumes together. But then there are some years where I’m pressed for time and I’m working more constantly. I try to always be the person who donates to a friend who’s doing a cancer walk or biking to raise money for MS. I make sure I’m always able to do at least that.”

A wonderful holiday gesture, and a wonderful good turn. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all our generous and kind readers.

Photo courtest of Flickr user H. Michael Miley

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