Monday, December 18, 2006

Playing Santa

I got to see a new part of San Francisco over the weekend volunteering for a charity group. This group mentors at-risk kids, and during the holidays raises money to provide Christmas gifts for needy families.

We have a friend who works for this organization, and she matched us up with a family that has two kids, a 2-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy. We did some shopping for them. They asked for cute things, like a set of magnetic building blocks, and a Dora the Explorer figurine. We enjoyed the shopping, and were very relieved we didn’t have to buy Barbie dolls or anything like that.

Friday evening there was a huge wrapping party where volunteers wrapped up and tagged the thousands of gifts that people had donated. The party was at their warehouse in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco, an up-and-coming area near Bayview/Hunters Point, where most of their clients live. We managed to get ourselves placed at the same wrapping station as the presents we’d purchased, so we got to wrap our own gifts. That made the giving effort feel even more personal, which was nice.

The next morning there was a massive delivery operation. Pipi and I made sure we were on a route that included our family. They turned out to be really sweet, the kind of family it’s easy to feel good about helping. They live in public housing, but it was a relatively nice place. Their building was brand new and still in really good shape. They kept a nice neat home, and I didn’t get a sense of chronic dysfunction. I can imagine them on their feet before too long.

The last family we delivered to was more troubling. They lived in Hayes Valley, which I would characterize as a decent neighborhood, but this was a horrible building. The apartment was dark and filthy, with mildew all over the walls and carpet. There was almost no furniture. Someone was sleeping on the floor in the living room—at noon. It was bleak. We were glad to be helping them, too, of course, but we couldn’t help but worry that maybe a lack of stocking stuffers wasn’t the worst problem this family was dealing with. It was a slightly unsettling glimpse into a set of life experiences very different from my own. It certainly made me grateful for what I’ve got, and I promise not to whine any more about how little my job is paying right now.

No comments: