It was our Christmas WishList kick-off last night. Nine volunteers came in to interview clients and to ask them, "What's your Christmas wish?"
It was a night of touching moments, of heartfelt connections, of people seeing one another and knowing, "You see me. I see you. We are connected."
Both my daughters came out to volunteer, as did my youngest daughter's boyfriend. They sat at a table and interviewed clients, asking questions, chatting, listening. Ryan, Liseanne's boyfriend, met Karen, the woman I wrote about last week whose daughter came in to volunteer and found her mother, whom she hadn't seen in years, living at the shelter.
"She said she didn't really want anything for Christmas," he said when the four of us went for dinner after the event. "She showed me the photos. She kept crying. She kept saying, I've got what I wanted. In the end, she asked for an outfit."
Karen wants to look good for Christmas dinner. With her family.
One man wanted to make sure they didn't use his real name. He doesn't want his family to know where he is. What's happened to his life. It was his first night at the shelter. Alexis, my eldest daughter interviewed him. "He was really scared," she said. "Really scared."
In the end, he didn't have a Christmas wish. He just wanted to be safe. To know what was would happen to him.
I let her know a staff member had sat with him to chat about the shelter, the process, what would happen.
Another man told her the story of his son finding him after several years. He is going home to Saskatchewan for Christmas. What he wants most is a disposable camera, maybe two, so he can take pictures of the family he hasn't seen in years. His son had found him last spring. He had been standing on a street corner when a car pulled up and a man stepped out and said, "Dad." His son had heard his father might be staying at the shelter and he had come looking. He's got a grandchild he's never met. A daughter, brothers, sisters. Family who have worried for years about where he was. What he was doing.
He's going home for Christmas and wants to take photos.
We had interview tables set up on all the floors. I walked between each floor, checking up on how people were doing. There was never any down time. Always people waiting in line to sign up. There is something very humbling about seeing grown men standing in line, waiting to tell a stranger, All I want for Christmas...
A man Liseanne interviewed asked to have a donation made to the Burn Unit at the hospital. Another, a donation to the Children's hospital. They didn't want anything themselves. Just to have the gift of giving passed on to help others.
These are stories of life. Of lives unravelling. Unfolding. Opening up. Simple stories. Stories that touch your heart and break it. Wide open.
Robert moved to Calgary with his parents as a young boy. He loves the fishing, hiking and camping. He finds it hard to be homeless. He finds it difficult to be in a shelter mostly because he has the same lunch everyday at work. He would love a change from the regular sandwich.
Wishlist: Gift card to a grocery store
Robert has had alot of mis-fortune but he is thankful to be alive. In the last 2 years he has had 9 strokes. This left him legally blind and in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Robert enjoys teaching computers skills and re-furbishing computers. His wish is to stay warm.
Wishlist: Snow suit (34 x 34) or a large jacket.
Don came from Montreal to work over 30 years ago. He has 3 boys who are all in Ontario and is a grandfather 5 times! He has never had the joy of meeting his grandkids but his sons keep in touch by making DVD’s and sending them to him. 2 years ago he got hit by a car while bike riding. He had a severe concussion and lost some of his ability to work. He has to walk on stilts and he now suffers from dizzyness which makes working difficult. He loves to play guitar and write his own music. His favorite is Country. He hopes to get a portable DVD player to see his grandkids more often.
Wishlist: Portable DVD player or gift card to Walmart
We've got eight more interview sessions set up. Our goal is to have at least 800 clients signed up by December 15th.
It is such a powerful experience. To see people talking, sharing and giving voice to dreams, to wishes, to hopes for that one special thing this Christmas.
My Christmas wish... that everyone's wish is fulfilled. That everyone knows the joy of knowing someone, a stranger, cared enough to gift them one special thing, just for them, this Christmas.