by Ray Lenarcic

While supervising this year’s Gram Lorraine Program’s family pick-up at Little Falls’ Family Parish gym, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The iconic Englishman’s allegory featuring such unforgettable characters as Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and his disabled son, Tiny Tim, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet, had as its primary purpose the advancement of three moral ideals associated with Christmas-generosity, kindness and a universal love for community; ideals which had been somewhat compromised by the emergence of an industrial society characterized by the haves reaping immense fortunes at the expense of a have-not labor class. Scrooge personified the former and Bob Cratchit the latter.

As the old miser traveled through time, he underwent an epiphany that resulted in his transformation from an insensitive, emotionally bankrupt man to an empathetic individual capable of understanding those less fortunate than himself. Dickens hoped that his writing would have a similar impact on the captains of industry. And when Scrooge saw that despite their poverty, the Cratchits could experience great joy from their own company, he learned that emotional riches were far more valuable than their material counterparts; that the spirit of Christmas was best manifested in people caring about people. When, in the end, Scrooge showers the Cratchits with gifts, gives Bob a raise, and “adopts” Tim as a second father, he was demonstrating that he cared about the family. While the latter certainly enjoyed the fruits of his generosity, they enjoyed far more the fact that he cared about them and, in the process, embodied the Christmas spirit.

That spirit was never more evident than on that Friday in my hometown when 58 families came to pick up their gifts. Thanks to the kindness of scores of sponsors who were infused with the holiday spirit and subscribed to the belief that no child should be unhappy on Christmas morning, the recipients of their goodwill walked away with bags filled with clothes, boots, and a gift of their children’s choice. New winter coats had been provided in early November because 40 golfers with the spirit played in the Coalition’s benefit golf tournament.

What made this year’s program special was that so many of the families cared that we cared. Their Christmas spirit was displayed by the cards and letters of thanks they left behind. Their heartfelt expressions of gratitude came from the knowledge that their children’s Christmas dreams would be a reality.

One letter, in particular, will forever serve as a reminder to our sponsors of what their generosity means to families temporarily down and out. It was written by a young woman who brought it to me an hour or so after she had received three large bags overflowing with gifts and a sparkling pink child’s bicycle. A disabled mother of four, she was still grieving over the loss of her mother in August. Making ends meet had never been easy, but this year, with the added expenses of paying for a funeral and a memorial stone, was especially difficult. After bills, nothing would be left for Christmas. A proud woman, it was difficult to ask for help. She closed by offering these words to her benefactors-“You have brought hope back into my heart and into the lives of my children, and for this, I will forever be grateful. We are all blessed in our own way, and God has blessed me with your kind hearts.”

I believe she spoke eloquently on behalf of the many families who benefit from programs like ours and all the others throughout the valley, programs whose sponsors and donors give freely without expecting to receive anything in return. They can take pride in the knowledge that because they cared, they were responsible for the smiles on the faces of hundreds of children on Christmas morning and for the hope in the hearts of their parents. Their generosity, kindness, and love of community exemplified everything Dickens believed this magical season could be, and their Christmas spirit gives meaning to Helen Keller’s immortal words-“alone we can do nothing, together we can do everything.”

From the coordinators, volunteers, and sponsors of the Gram Lorraine Children’s Christmas Program, best wishes for the happiest of holidays and “God bless us, everyone.”

Ray Lenarcic is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society