In the wink of an elves eye, the season of thankfulness gives way to the season of giving. The turkey dishes are stowed, the pumpkins turned to pie or cookies, and the scent of pine from trees and wreathes reminds me of mountains and snow.
My small rented house shines brightly in these winter nights; its roof outlined with strands of icicle lights, compliments of my ex-husband and my son. Rummaging in the garage, I found the rolls of red ribbon leftover from last year and the box of saved and treasured ornaments. As always, there is a childish thrill in holding each of the handmade decorations I have crafted from felt and embroidery. Each one holds a memory tied to a moment in my two sons’ lives.
Our recent Hospitality night – replete with ice skating rink – opened our hearts – and our wallets. Santa once again found Laguna, and the storefronts are festooned with ribbons and wreaths. Some even have a pot of hot cider to knock down the recent arctic chill. We stroll our sidewalks to the persistent tune of Christmas carols, and the Laguna Beach firefighters are collecting new toys for children whose holidays would otherwise be bleak.
As the season begins to fatten itself with good cheer, we turn to card writing, festive parties and our gift lists for the holiday season. What to give? And to whom?
In years past, my family members have been the recipients of water buffalo, geese, chickens, and rabbits. They didn’t actually receive these gifts, but Heifer International bestowed them through their name. Heifer is a wide-reaching global charity that grants husbanded animals to needy families, with the stipulation that the gift is “played forward.” When the recipient’s family produces offspring, they must gift a baby animal to another deserving family, which strengthens the entire community.
This year, along with Heifer, my holiday gift money will go to the Friendship Shelter. Once upon a time, I didn’t understand homelessness, and had little regard for those who slept on my beaches and begged in front of local stores. It wasn’t until my own son became homeless that I began to understand the diverse and intricate mechanisms that lead a man or woman to live on the streets. No one chooses homelessness.
The Friendship Shelter provides critically needed services to the homeless in Laguna. Its programs include the self-sufficiency program for 32 men and women in Laguna Beach, the Henderson House transitional apartments in San Clemente, and the Alternative Sleeping Location in Laguna Canyon. Along with life skill training, their programs provide medical and dental assistance, self-esteem building, therapy and psychiatric access, and job readiness training.
My son was lucky to land at the Friendship Shelter. With their counseling and guidance, a roof over his head and nutrition in his belly, he was able to eventually straighten out his life, find employment and move into his own apartment. After rigorous study and examination, he received his personal trainer’s certificate from the National Institute of Sports Medicine (NASM) and now trains health-conscious individuals at our local Art of Fitness. He credits his success with the lift up that he received from the Friendship Shelter program.
There are many needy charities worldwide and close to home. In this season, take time to broaden your gift list. Most of us have more than we need – and many around us could use our help and support.
Both the Friendship Shelter and Heifer International offer programs that keep on giving long after the holidays have passed.
Catharine Cooper put her roots down in North Laguna in 1956. She can be reached at [email protected].