ER Christmas Parties: It’s the Little Things That Matter

ER Christmas Parties bring joy and hope to children, such as these South African girls in the Red Hill informal settlement.
ER Christmas Parties bring joy and hope to children, such as these South African girls in the Red Hill informal settlement.

By Dawn Carnill
Director of Christmas Outreach

 

 

It’s almost that time of year again. The television commercials have already started and it’s time to break out the Christmas music (much to my family’s chagrin).

ER volunteers lead a Christmas Party in the South African informal settlement of Red Hill.
ER volunteers lead a Christmas Party in the South African informal settlement of Red Hill.

We at Extreme Response start planning for our Christmas parties in January, so we’re well on our way to another great year. We have almost 90 people signed up and ready to travel to Quito, Manila and Cape Town. We’re in the process of gathering thousands of small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. Emails are flying back and forth across the globe. There are parties to schedule, buses to rent, sleeping arrangements to make and food to order.

Yes, things get pretty crazy this time of year. My husband Jerry and I will be on the road for four weeks as we travel to the South Africa and Quito parties. It’s exhausting. It’s a bit overwhelming. Why do we keep doing this after 18 years? What difference can a little party with food, games, crafts and a “token” gift really make?

Last year was our fifth year leading the South Africa Christmas team. There we put on more than 15 parties in 10 days, sometimes as many as three per day. Our sixth party – and the second of that day – was in Red Hill, one of the communities that ER partner Living Hope works in.

Wood-and-aluminum shacks like these are typical of informal settlements like Red Hill.
Wood-and-aluminum shacks like these are typical of informal settlements like Red Hill.

The team was getting a bit tired. It had been “one of those days.” The gift bags didn’t make it with the rest of the supplies, the crafts were nowhere to be found, we had 200 hotdogs to cook over an open fire, the kids were wound up, and one of our team members had an accident and was taken to the hospital (he recovered!).

Needless to say, I felt a bit discouraged. But the party had gone well, all things considered. It was time to hand out the gift bags, so I grabbed my camera to get a few shots of the kids opening their gifts. It’s one of my favorite things to photograph. As I came around the corner, a girl, probably around 8 or 10 years old, ran up to me and opened her gift bag. She shouted, “Look! I got a Colgate! Of my very own.” She proudly showed me her full-sized tube of Colgate toothpaste and skipped on.

The young lady on the left was thrilled and appreciative to receive a tube of Colgate toothpaste as one of her Christmas gifts from ER.
The young lady on the left was thrilled and appreciative to receive a tube of Colgate toothpaste as one of her Christmas gifts from ER.

Wow. That much excitement – over a tube of toothpaste. No, she wasn’t being sarcastic. She was genuinely excited. She appreciated the gift. She appreciated the party. She appreciated our time and effort. She appreciated your generosity. She doesn’t take things like this for granted. Our being there and providing that party for her made a difference in her day (at the very least).

She had a reason to smile. A reason to skip. A reason to celebrate. She helped remind me that we do all this to bring a little hope, to build trust and to cultivate the relationships. That day, I realized that something as insignificant as a tube of toothpaste can make an impact.

Are we ready for another great year of parties? You bet we are!

If you’d like to help with this year’s Christmas Celebrations, you can donate HERE (Designation: Christmas Celebrations).

We also collect gift items all year round. If you’d like a list of our needs, please contact me at Christmas@extremeresponse.org.

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