This experience left an indelible imprint on my life and the lives of my daughters. It’s a challenge to explain this day with only words and a few amateurish photos, but I’ll make the attempt. Because this day—this small effort—deserves to be shared.
I’m part of a community service organization at the girls’ school called Care and Share. Our goal is to raise money throughout the year to help the El Carmen school—whether it’s with much needed improvements to the school building itself or to give aid to the students and their families.
A week ago I pulled Erin and Lauren out of class to join me, a handful of other Care and Share moms and kids, the principal Mr. Large, and six student council members to deliver food and used toys to the neediest families from El Carmen. I rightly suspected this would be an amazing, joyful, and heartrending day all at once.
We loaded twenty hefty boxes of food and several bags of toys onto our bus and began the drive up the mountain to the school. From there, we followed the school’s director who led us to the homes of those we wanted to help. The air was cool, the views of the valley terrific, and we enjoyed the El Carmen neighborhood as we wound around the maze of roads. Typical for a trip in this area, we saw many cows, horses, roosters, chickens and stray dogs—oh, and even a kitten on the steps of the local super.
At each stop, a group got off the bus with the food. The director explained to us how many children were at each house and their ages—and then we chose toys for them. Erin, the oldest kid on the bus, sat up front and took charge in selecting what toys were given at each stop. I was so happy as I watched her smile and get excited about serving others with her sweet heart.
I was only able to take a few photos from inside the bus, and it’s hard to tell from them how poor the living conditions were. We see homes like this daily in Costa Rica—the tin roofs, pockmarked walls, peeling paint, single bulbs hanging from the ceilings, and dirt floors are nothing new for us. Additionally, we have all had many opportunities to help those less fortunate—with food drives, fund raisers, gift giving parades, church offerings—but to meet these families makes the reality that much clearer.
After leaving a place with a large group of kids, the boys in the back of the bus realized that others—a woman and her daughter, at one point—were following us, hoping we’d stop. When we pulled to the roadside for this girl we didn’t know, I caught Mr. Large’s eye and quickly turned away as tears spilled out of my own eyes. There were many times on the trip when I’d catch a mom wiping her cheeks or see a look of wonder on my girls’ faces.
On one of the final stops, a group of children walked up the stairs from what must be a very dark, damp, and chilly place to live. There were about six boys and a girl. As we were preparing to leave, one of our students noticed on the other side of our bus was a small girl, maybe age two or three, clinging to her blue metal door. We couldn’t leave, the girls up front insisted, without giving her something. Erin and her friend Aidra hopped off the bus and began tossing toys—a tutu, a boa, a sparkly plastic tiara—over the door. The girl’s sister appeared, then the grandma. It was a joy to watch their faces as the toys soared over the door and the girls realized they were theirs, for keeps. I tried to sneak a photo of the little one from inside the bus. What a precious girl she was.
After handing out the final baskets and toys, we returned to El Carmen school. Here, the director boarded our bus to thank us and barely finished her first sentence before breaking down in tears. Even the children whose Spanish is not the best could understand this language of the heart. Again, many of us wept silently as she told us how these children often don’t have enough to eat each day, how they live in some very difficult conditions and have family lives that are not safe, healthy, and happy.
This day … it is one I won’t forget. One my girls will not forget. And it served as a tremendous reminder of what is most important at Christmas. We were Santa’s helpers and Christ’s hands all in one. We all agreed that we need to do this again soon.
My dad reminded me of a verse in Matthew—25:31-40—that I shared with Erin and Lauren. It tells us how important it is that we think not only of ourselves but that we serve others—and in doing so, we are servants of our Lord, too. You may say that my daughters and I, and our little group, did something wonderful and caring that day. But I’ll tell you that we received the greatest blessing of all in the giving.
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'