Christmas at CT&J

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Spreading the joy

As a firm-wide holiday tradition, each Christmas season, each staff member receives equal amounts of cash. The money is not for wages. Each individual is charged to spend it to further God’s work or simply spread Christmas cheer. As the year winds down, the firm holds a meeting in which each staff member’s “giving story” is read aloud anonymously. Feel free to share in the undeniable joy that results from giving to others by reading some of our past stories.

2016 Story 1

 

This year we spent lots of time in discount shopping venues looking, following, watching…(! think I was being watched at one point – big coat, no cart… J)

It becomes a dilemma sometimes. You want to help the ones that appear to need it…at the same time, there’s an urge (in today’s entitled society) to help the ones that look like they’re really trying…

In the end, we chose the latter…at Ollies, we lingered around a young couple and overheard parts of their conversations [“…I don’t think we need to spend money on more wrapping paper…I think I have enough at home…”] and watched them carefully choose books, stuffed animals, a Minnie Mouse, and non-battery type toys.

When they were getting checked out, we asked a store associate to give the $100 to the cashier helping them and we ran out the door…we sat outside and watched for them to leave the store (for some reason it took a while) …lt was dark, but we happened to be parked right beside them!

They looked bewildered and HAPPY. A nice gift for us!

 

2016 Story 2

 

This year the $100 went to a single mother of a 3-year-old son who lives in Sevierville. She was our waitress at Pigeon Forge restaurant we ate at recently. She lived on her own, worked 2 jobs (second one being in Knoxville). The restaurant in Pigeon Forge where she worked was her main source of income and due to the wildfires, business had been slow for several weeks and her income stream was severely impacted. She was faced with smaller paychecks, an increase in her apartment rent, caring for her 3- year-old son and trying to provide Christmas for him.

 

So, we briefly shared the story of why we do the $100, gave the money to her and reminded her that God loved her and watched as the tears ran down her face. Tears of gratitude and tears of her burden being lifted, even if just a little bit.

 

2016 Story 3

 

I  spoke with the principal and her assistant of a local elementary school and requested the opportunity to purchase Christmas gifts for a child who would otherwise be left out.  I was told that since many of their students live in shelters and in multiple family dwellings the needs of these students are of a higher priority.  Their names are given to local organizations for assistance.  I was given the name of a child in fourth grade and this is what the teacher told me.  “I submitted her name as someone who would benefit from extra attention this Christmas season.  Adriana lives with her mom, a single parent, and four brothers. You can tell her mom puts a lot of effort into taking care of them, but they just don’t have much money.  Adriana  comes to school with clothes that are too small for her, a very light weight jacket  even when it’s really cold outside, and struggles to bring papers back signed because her mom works many long hours in a restaurant.  In other words, she is just a child in need who is so deserving.  You’ve never met a sweeter, harder working child.  Because she is so quiet and shy she often falls under the radar of school services.  She doesn’t make a fuss about anything.”

When I asked what this child needed I was told “anything you would like to provide but she desperately needs shoes and her favorite colors are pink and purple”. I purchased two pair of shoes, jeans, purple fleecy hooded jacket and two knit shirts, one of them being pink. I asked customers in the toy aisles what age child they were shopping for.  When I found one with an eight-year-old girl I asked what her child wanted. She told me “shopkins” so I bought a starter house and some additional sets. I was not originally told that Adriana needed a heavy coat but I have emailed the teacher and offered to purchase one.

Thank you for continuing to encourage that I reach out to help make someone’s Christmas brighter.

 

2016 Story 4

 

One Tuesday afternoon, I ran an errand which took me to West Elementary School to pick up something from a friend. While we were quickly catching up on kids and what we had been busy with, she explained to me she had taken an interim job there and would take another one immediately. She told me the story of a young male teacher, around 30, who left school suddenly one day in the fall with heart attack symptoms. Once a heart attack was ruled out, he was diagnosed as having an anxiety attack. He tried to return to his job, yet the same type of episode happened. My friend relayed this story because she knew I knew the teacher’s

mother-in-law.  Actually, I knew the man’s family, his wife, and other problems they had faced the past few years.  The wife had desperately tried to get pregnant for years and had undergone multiple tests.  She has a condition that will keep her from bearing children.

Meanwhile, I watched as she hosted showers for her best friends that now have 3 and 2 kids. Also, her parents are divorced.  I knew she lost her Dad this past year. The teacher has been diagnosed with a disease which surgery is an unlikely option.  There is a spot on his brain that no matter small or large is interfering with how he processes how to handle situations (such as kids disturbing class, etc).  Once my friend explained the likelihood he won’t be able to teach again, all the thoughts in my mind turned to the obstacles this young couple has faced in just a few years of marriage.  I left knowing in some way, I had to help.  I found the couple’s address and determined Appalachian Electric is their utility provider.  So, I took the Christmas money from the office along with some from friends that I knew would want to help, and I anonymously put money on their account at Appalachian Electric to help cover future bills.

 

Story 5

 

My mind went into overtime when trying to determine how I would donate this money…I pondered many days on which grand gesture I would choose. In the end, two families benefited from the good deed.

The first was an elderly couple at the grocery store. They seemed to be having a hard time getting around and then I ended up behind them in line. There was something so sweet about them, that when the cashier told them their total, I felt compelled to cover their $27.01, so I handed over the $100 bill. The couple gave me the strangest look…the man said “Wow, you didn’t have to do that!” I said, “I just wanted to.” He went on to tell me how they were visiting from Kansas and both disabled…the lady’s eyes watered when she thanked me. Mine did, too.

The second family was in a discount store. It was a lady that had her full right arm in a cast – shoulder to hand – with a little boy in the shopping cart. He was about 3. She had given him to a small toy to occupy him while she appeared to be trying to sneak toys in the cart that he wouldn’t notice. He was thoroughly enjoying himself and seemed mindless of her activities. My husband and I followed them around for 30 minutes, hoping we could slip behind them in line and donate money toward her purchase. She was unaware of being followed and went from aisle to aisle, carefully studying books and toys before slipping them into the cart. Running out of time and so as not to interrupt her shopping, we headed to the register to speak with the cashier and her manager. I explained the situation to them and that our target seemed to be planning on being in the store for a while. I pointed the lady out to them and asked if I could leave the money to cover part of her order. The manager handed me an envelope and I slipped in the $73 letting them know I didn’t think it would cover it all, but hopefully, it would help. Declining their offer to leave a name and number on the envelope, we turned toward the door. The cashier seemed to tear up and said “What you’re doing is really nice.” We smiled and I said, “I’m just the messenger, paying it forward.”

Regardless of the lack of grandeur of my choices, the lighthearted feeling of good will is the same.

Thank you for allowing me to join in.

 

Story 6

 

My recipient was a young lady – call her Romilda – who is a waitress at a local restaurant and a single mother of a very young daughter. My own daughter and I were having dinner and she was our server. During the course of the meal, I had an opportunity to talk a bit with her and hear some of her story.

Romilda works a maximum of 28 hours as a waitress and this is her sole source of income. She lost her job of 9 years at a local manufacturing plant and the $13 an hour wage and insurance that went with it. In the interim, she and her daughter moved in with Romilda’s father in an effort to be able to save money and live off her waitress income. Although her daughter does spend time with her father, I got a sense that Romilda has no income support provided by him and the responsibility to provide falls squarely on Romilda’s shoulders.

Like many single mothers I have met and who have no financial support from the child’s father, Romilda sacrifices her own needs and desires so that she may provide best she can for her daughter’s needs. She works as a waitress as much as she can and during hours that, while allowing her maximum exposure to customers, takes time away from her daughter. During the day she searches for full time work with benefits and operates on limited sleep on a daily basis.

When we were done with dinner and ready to get the check, I asked Romilda if there was anything in her life I could pray for that evening. She sat down and said, “Yes. Please pray that I would find a full time job with benefits. Oh…and please pray that I earn enough money to make my car payment next week and have some left to buy Christmas for my daughter.”

I assured Jennifer that I would certainly lift her needs to God that evening and then I shared with her the challenge we were given here at the office with the $100. I handed her the money and said “Please allow me to be a blessing in your life tonight.” Romilda’s mouth dropped open and all she could say was
“Are you serious?” and I said “Absolutely.” Tears welled up in her eyes and she took the money and said “You have no idea how much this means to me right now! This will help me make my car payment and even buy Christmas for my daughter. I don’t know what to say…”

I looked her in the eye as she sat beside my daughter across from me and simply said “Just say ‘thank you.’” She did and then got up, came over and gave me a hug and went back to work. It was very much a “God moment” for me and made even more so because my daughter was able to see and be a part of what I call “the ministry of the one.”

The Great Commission commands us to go out and make disciples and yet I cannot help but believe sometimes we do that by planting the seed in someone’s life and let God take it from there. Personally, I struggle on a daily basis with the “love people” part of the Great Commandment that says “Love God, love people” from Matthew 22. But it is in these one on one moments where I am reminded of Matthew 25:40 where Jesus talks about reaching out to people and ministering to their basic needs and he says “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

 

Story 7

 

My wife called me on Friday, December 7th and told me that a kindergarten student had just told a teacher’s assistant that he had no food at home.

The teacher’s assistant knows most everyone at the school, and she began to investigate the student’s story. She learned the mom had a pacemaker inserted and couldn’t work for several weeks. The mom speaks no English. She is a single parent with five boys ranging from high school age to kindergarten.

On Friday evening, I called the teacher’s assistant and got the family’s address.

On a Saturday morning, my family and I went to Save-A-Lot and purchased a SUV full of food using the $100 bill from work and some additional funds. We bought pizzas for the family. We then delivered the food to the home and visited with the family.

 

Story 8

 

My friend is a teacher’s assistant at a local elementary school. He has always taken clothing and shoes his family has outgrown to school to give to children, and he has also purchased items on occasion. I knew he would be a good source of information about children in need.

He and the PE teacher identified for me two young kids in need of some clothing and shoes, but who might not otherwise receive these items (i.e., they would not be covered by Rotary or Kiwanis Christmas programs, or other programs). He obtained sizes for me and suggested I buy things a little bigger so the boys could wear them longer.

One of the boys has two working parents, but with more than 4 siblings, his parents find it hard to provide. The other boy was being raised by his grandmother and uncle.

My friend overhead one of the boys talking about a brand name jacket – not a winter coat, just a jacket.

I matched the funds which the firm generously provided, and was able to buy each boy the desired brand name jacket. I also bought each boy a pair of tennis shoes, long sleeved shirt, athletic pants, underwear and socks. God always comes through with bargains!

I told my friend that I did not want to embarrass the boys, so he told me to put the items in nondescript bags. He pulled each boy separately out of class, and gave them the bags to put in their locker and take home.

My friend expressed his gratitude for these gifts made possible by CT&J. It is a great blessing to participate in giving to others. Thank you.

 

Story 9

 

We pooled our money together and talked with Rick Martindale at Pal’s about trying to brighten a number of people’s day by paying for their breakfast and telling them that the person in front of them had paid for it. He loved the idea and added another $200 to it. So two Thursdays ago, many people went through Pal’s for breakfast thinking the car in front of them had paid for it.

Rick indicated people responded with big thank you’s, paying for the next guy themselves and lots of Merry Christmas’.

 

Story 10

 

With my family, we tried to figure a way that would bring the most holiday cheer and make people think of the good in the world. So after many submitted ideas, we decided to buy gift cards from Chik-Fil-A and then buy bags of candy kisses and give them out within the Housing Authority by going door to door. So we arise a Saturday morning and guess what it is raining. We decide to wait a little and then go have lunch at Chik-Fil-A and maybe revise our plan. While eating, the clouds clear and the rain stops (a sign from God?). So we took the clearing as a sign and proceeded with our original plan. After purchasing the gift cards and candy, we arrived at the Housing Authority wondering just where to start; we finally pulled into a central point and left the comfort of the car. The first apartment we tried, no one was home. The next one an elderly woman answered with her dog in hand and when I said we have a gift for you – she said are you from the church? We said no we are just doing this as a family and she thought that was a wonderful idea, smiled, introduced herself and graciously thanked us. The next door we knocked on appeared to have someone home (we saw them look at us through the blinds) but they didn’t answer, so we left the gifts inside their screen door. We then saw a car with stickers and signage with “hail to Satan” and other similar statements…we decided not to go to their door.

We began to look for apartments with toys around to find families with children and we looked for doors with Christmas decorations as well. The next door was answered by a young teenager who had a look of disbelief and a wide smile when we gave her the gifts.

Given the weather and other issues, we decided to get back in the car and drive around finding people outside to randomly give the gifts to. We found a young mom struggling to get her baby in a car seat, a disabled man with a good-looking three year old blonde boy in his arms, another teenager in a nicely holiday decorated apartment, a mother and her two boys Christmas shopping downtown (they were really surprised and all smile) and to a few others in homes that we thought could use some Christmas cheer. As you might expect, we received far more Christmas cheer than we gave and created a lifelong family memory.

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