As the 2012 Christmas season has come to a close, I realized that I reached the point in the road of parenthood where two out of my three boys (sadly) no longer believe in Santa Claus. Of course, I knew this years ago, my two oldest are 16 and 14, but as parents, this was our last year of Santa…ever.
Our youngest, Liam, is 10, and a die-hard believer. He's got nary a doubt in is adorable little head, and went around joyfully, unselfconsciously singing Christmas songs, making lists and checking them twice. Occasionally my oldest son challenged me to finally "admit once and for all" that there is no Santa, but I couldn't. I won't. Ever. Ever.
Because I can't.
Is there a chubby, white-bearded man in a fur-trimmed red suit who lives in the North Pole and makes toys year round with the help of elves? Well, I can't say definitively because I've never actually seen him, the elves or the North Pole. I've never actually seen $100 million dollars either, for that matter, but does that mean it doesn't exist? What about hope, love or faith? Surely we know, definitively, that they exist, yet we haven't seen them, either, at least not tangibly. But have we?
Just as hope, love and faith surely exist, so does the Christmas spirit, and I saw it, with my own eyes, up close and very personal, in a Target store outside of Las Vegas, of all places.
The mission and very heart of Fabulous Shoe Night is to benefit local charities…those small, often struggling, charities that help real people, in our own backyards. My chapter leaders are wonderfully adept at finding these smaller, special non-profits that operate on shoe-string budgets and provide tangible goods and services to the needy in their communities. Julie, our Las Vegas chapter leader, chose one such non-profit, with a very timely event that, unbeknownst to us, turned out to have a huge dose of Christmas magic built in.
The Santa Cops program pairs police officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police with needy children, nominated by officers who encounter struggling families while on duty. Fund raising throughout the year culminates in a shopping trip at a local Target to buy Christmas presents for the children nominated. Often times, these are the only gifts the children will receive.
The first hint of Christmas magic came when we discovered that this once a year, very special shopping trip was scheduled the day after our Fabulous Shoe Night event to benefit Santa Cops. This was not planned, and purely serendipitous. That night at FSN, one of the officers in attendance told us how appreciative they were of our event, as they hadn't yet hit their donation goal for 2012, and were worried some names would have to be crossed off the list due to lack of funds. A second dose of Christmas magic came when the money raised at Fabulous Shoe Night actually helped Santa Cops exceed its annual goal.
The next morning, Target opened their doors at 6:30 a.m. for the Santa Cops event. While I've never been a morning person, I woke before the 5:45 alarm to catch our 6:15 ride. When we arrived, a large crowd had already assembled in the parking lot. It appeared most of the LV Metro Police force was there, along with several police dogs and two police horses. What I didn't know was that Santa himself would be arriving soon, by helicopter no less, to start the event in style. As his chopper approached the parking lot, wind whipping my hair into a frenzy, I jumped, clapped and waved right along with the children all around me. Looking at their excitement and awe, seeing the hope and magic that Santa represents reflected in their faces, I wiped away tears, pretending the gusts from the helicopter made my eyes water. There's just something about Santa that makes me feel like a six year old again, and I hope I never lose that feeling.
At Santa Cops, each child is paired with a police officer to shop for their gifts. Even their parents aren't permitted to shop with the children and officers, but wait in the food court area of the store. This year, the officers were given a $130 Target gift card to spend for each child. Julie and I were lucky enough to tag along with a Captain on the force, who was paired with Casey, a petite, quiet six year old who seemed overwhelmed with the entire experience.
In hindsight, I can only imagine how daunting it must have felt to a six year old to have three adults literally in your face, asking what you want to shop for first. There we were, offering Casey virtually anything she wanted in the store, only to get the reality check of our lives when she looked at the floor, refusing to meet our eyes, and whispered, "I need warm boots."
Julie and I looked at each other. There were two ways to take this; either we had a budding shoe-girl in our midst, or Casey knew she had to go for warmth and practicality over the frivolity of toys. With tears in our eyes, we headed to the shoe department.
Once we got Casey situated with warm boots and a funky pair of metallic blue high-tops that caught her eye, we asked if she wanted to go to the toy department next. Did she want a bike? A doll? Legos? Play Doh? We were practically begging her…the world is your oyster for the next hour, Casey…let us give you anything you want. Anything…just tell us and we'll make it happen.
I saw the hesitation in her face when we were tempting her with all the different goodies in the toy department. As she stared at the floor, I asked, "How about a coat? Do you need some warm clothes?" Casey almost looked relieved at my suggestion, met my eye, and said, "Yes, I need warm clothes." Again, Julie and I made eye contact, and without a word between us, I felt our hearts jointly break.
At the other end of a long aisle, I noticed a big, hulking, burly police officer, walking hand-in-hand with a child who was no more than three. The glaring disparity in their sizes, his gentle voice, and the evident trust between them brought a fresh wave of tears over me. There is so much horror in our world, poverty, abuse, hunger, injustice. But there is also so much good, and I was seeing it, all around me, in Target. I felt so privileged to be in that little bubble of good that day, in our very own snow globe of Christmas spirit, goodwill and love.
Once in the girl's department, we piled warm shirts, socks, a faux fur trimmed hoodie and more into Casey's cart. At that point, we all knew that the contents of the cart far exceeded the $130 allotted on the gift card. We hadn't even hit the toy department yet, but our excitement bubbled over. Everyone's did. The Captain told us that every year the children's check-out totals exceed the gift card limit, and the officers all reach into their own pockets and pay the difference.
So, while I actually did see the man in the red suit that day, there was overwhelming evidence that everything he stands for was all around us. I saw kindness and laughter, the beaming faces of underprivileged children, and infinite generosity. I saw trust and tenderness between children and the officers they had just met. I saw gratitude, and a resolute determination to make a difference. I saw joy, and I saw love.
Was Santa there? No, I don't think so. But I know that everything I saw in that Target store in Las Vegas would have made him proud. See for yourself in this YouTube clip and make sure you watch to the very, very end!
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