Remembering the kindness of strangers


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The other night I was up late, making Christmas cookies.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2020 (638 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The other night I was up late, making Christmas cookies.

My kids were nestled into their beds long asleep, their dad was snoring away too. It was nearing midnight and I was tired, but these are the quiet moments to myself that I savour. I stood in my kitchen rolling out dough from a new recipe I’d found online, listening to Christmas songs on my phone and sipping on a glass of Malbec.

All day I had been preoccupied with the idea that I didn’t think I’d made enough cookies. Even though we have nowhere to go, and nobody to see or even give them to, I was fixated on making more.

This Christmas is so far away from the Christmases of my childhood. Not just in time but in experiences too. Now that I’m a mother I can’t help but look back at those times from a different perspective. More precisely, from a mother’s perspective. It’s interesting, because I have my own special childhood memories, and they’re magical, but embedded in them is a reality that I learned as I grew older. A reality that some of the happiest times in my life, were some of the hardest and most straining times in my parents’ lives. This isn’t to say that they didn’t enjoy our early Christmases too. They did, but the holiday season was a heavy burden to carry some years.

We grew up poor, and I don’t just mean that we struggled, I mean that there were a couple of years where our family was on the brink of drowning in poverty. The stories from back then sound far-fetched, but I know they’re true. I lived them, yet I never actually saw them for what they were until later. It never dawned on me that strangers and good Samaritans played such an integral part of my life.

Hindsight really is 20/20.

My mother’s early motherhood years were blanketed with a different kind of guilt than I carry now. Instead of worrying about not having enough Christmas cookies, or not getting an Amazon order in time, she was worried about having enough food to feed her kids, and about whether or not her little girls would have any gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.

She relied on and trusted in our annual Christmas hamper and in strangers who contributed to it in a way that I am too privileged to ever understand. The people who gave, even just a little bit, delivered more than just a hamper to my family. They gave us Christmas, they gave my parents hope. Their generosity scooped us out from poverty, if only for a brief holiday, and invited us to join in on the festivities.

That’s the thing about Christmas hampers, and donations like this that we sometimes don’t realize. They allow people who are struggling to breathe and to enjoy life and the holidays for a few moments or for a few days. They are gateways to wonderful memories, not just because of the donated goods, but because of the peace of mind that accompanies those goods. Of course it’s a Band-Aid solution to a larger issue, but it’s a reprieve from the exhausting and overwhelming toll that poverty takes on people. For some, like my family, the impact of those hampers and the long line of anonymous people who made them possible, is so deep that even now we are grateful.

For as long as I live, I will never forget that people who I don’t even know made such a huge and profound impact on me and on my entire family. I will never be able to explain or adequately express how their generosity and those donations changed my life, and how I strive to return the favour by being that anonymous stranger to others, whether I can give a lot or just a little.

Standing in my kitchen over baking sheets of chocolate cookie dough the other night, it was as though I had been visited by a ghost from Christmas past, at least deep in my mind. It was an “aha moment” that connected me from where I was to where I am.

What a journey it has been so far.

Yet, standing there as an adult and as a mother, I realized that even all these years later I am still that recipient of kindness and good deeds. I am still that little kid who was identified as “girl” and an age on a hamper list. I am that kid who grew up, and who escaped the vicious cycle of poverty thanks to my parents and thanks to people who felt in their hearts to donate to us when we needed it. I am also a person who has been given a platform here, in the Winnipeg Free Press, to share my story and to ask others to join me in giving to those who may need it right now.

The Winnipeg Free Press’s Miracle on Mountain collects monetary donations for the Christmas Cheer Board to pay for food and other items packed into hampers. Since this year was a little different because of the pandemic, the Cheer Board gave out food vouchers instead. The money from this fundraiser will pay for these vouchers and well as any shortfalls that the Cheer Board sustained.

If you are able to give this year, please consider it. Your donation matters and it makes a difference.

Thank you.

Twitter: @ShelleyACook

Shelley Cook

Shelley Cook
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project

Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud Indigenous woman with family ties to Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.

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