I grew up in poverty, raised by a single mother. Our meager food was paid for with food stamps and I remember well the taste of government cheese.
I know what it's like to rely on extended family for shelter. I'm all too familiar with trailer-park life and I know what it's like to live in a dangerous neighborhood where there is theft, fighting, and constant noise. I know what it's like to walk past X-rated movie theaters, pool halls, strip clubs, seedy bars, passed-out drunks, and sleeping homeless on the way to school each morning. I know what it's like to beg for change along a street made famous by the number of working prostitutes.
I know what it's like to be looked-down upon as a poor little waif. I know what it's like to be defined by your circumstances and to have adults despise you because they can't look through the grime and see your tender little heart. I know what it's like to have them look past you because they don't know what to do, or are too uncomfortable to look into the shameful face of the truly poor. I know what it's like to live in a world that places zero expectations on you because it assumes that you will always be where you are and will never amount to anything. I know what it's like to be without hope.
Yet, I remember a good day. I remember a tremendously kind act and the hope that stemmed from it. I remember the day, about a week before Christmas, that two Marines came to my front door.
I remember that their uniforms were pressed and clean and their shoes shone. They were strong and serious, and they seemed larger than life in the eyes of this little 8 year old girl. I had no idea what a Marine did, or that they were Marines at all, but I remember their presence, their being, the indescribable mix of confidence, strength, duty and honor that makes up a Marine. I remember thinking that they were important men, and that they were extremely good and that I could trust them. They seemed to me to be like gods walking among men.
They came into our living room with boxes of food, and clothing... and presents! I was so excited to have presents under our tree and to know that we would have a real Christmas feast. It was pure joy to me; these Marines had brought a miracle to my front door. Then, one of them took a knee and looked at me. He didn't look down upon me, nor were his eyes devoid of hope for my future. He looked right at me, and there was hope in his eyes. He wished me a merry Christmas, and I couldn't stop myself from aggressively hugging him. He didn't seem concerned about this poor little waif wrinkling his uniform as he hugged me back!
That was the day that I learned the truth about Santa Claus, because I met him in person. He is real, but he no longer wears the red suit. He wears a starched and pressed uniform and shiny shoes. He is a United States Marine and he brings miracles to tens of thousands of children every year. Through the Toys for Tots program, his elves collect toys for children who otherwise might have nothing under their tree. He shows up where he is needed most and brings HOPE and presents with him.
This is why I give to Toys for Tots every year. I love having the opportunity to give back to an organization that has given so much to me and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of children over the years. There have been years where there are not enough toys to be given to the children who are without, and it's heartbreaking to think of those innocent children without hope in their hearts and presents under their trees. I invite you to join me in giving to Toys for Tots this year. They accept presents at many drop-off locations and monetary contributions through their website at www.ToysForTots.org Help Toys for Tots give presents and hope to those who need it so much.