Our Christmas Story

By Carla Kelly

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve been wallowing in wonderful Christmas stories of surprise gifts to totally deserving people. I live in Idaho Falls, which has a wonderful online news website called EastIdahoNews.com. It’s been around about five years, I think, and was funded originally by Frank Vander Sloot, owner and CEO of Melaleuca. If not the richest man in Idaho, he’s close to it. Headed by TV journalist Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com is an excellent local news source. 

Starting after Thanksgiving for the last several years, EastIdahoNews.com has been sponsoring a “Secret Santa.” Someone in the community donates a lot of money; no joke, a lot. Website watchers send in messages about people they think should receive of some of this Christmas largess. This year’s donation is the biggest so far: one million dollars from Secret Santa.   

These aren’t trivial matters.  One young wife from Ukraine and her two kids became husbandless and fatherless last August when her husband, also Ukrainian and a recent grad of Brigham Young University-Idaho, died in a car accident. He had just secured an excellent job in southern California, and they were getting ready to move and begin a good life in the U.S. 

In an instant, everything crashed down on her. People being what they are here, friends loaned her a car so she could get to a new job. It’s a modest job. She sews blankets. She and her littles are living with other friends, too. Everyone wants to help.

Secret Santa got wind of this and thanks to him and whoever wrote that letter, she now has a new dependable car, plus gift cards for gas and groceries to the tune of several thousand dollars, and an additional check for expenses. She has hope. 

Other recent recipients include an older couple with serious health issues that have made work impossible. Secret Santa gave them generous gas and food cards, too, plus paid their rent for the coming year. Oh my. The woman sobbed and said now they wouldn’t be homeless.

Google EastIdahoNews.com. You can watch “Secret Santa,” too. 

I can relate to such goodness. I recall an event in my own life where someone did the kind thing for my son.

We were living in Southwest Missouri, my husband and our five growing children. Neither of us had good-paying jobs there in the Ozarks. Our oldest son had been attending Greenwood, a lab school connected to Southwest Missouri State University, now called Missouri State University-Springfield. Greenwood was tantamount to a very good private school. The kids who went there all came from well-heeled, prominent families. Well, not us. Each class, K-12, contained only 24 students: 12 boys and 12 girls. It was a close-knit bunch.

Annual tuition, due up front, was $2,000, I believe. We simply didn’t have it. No way. My son was already working at McDonalds. He really wanted to spend his senior year at Greenwood with his friends. He was a thoughtful person, aware we didn’t have much. Still, he wanted a final year at Greenwood. 

The two of us swallowed our pride, got brave, and made an appointment with a nice lady – I can’t recall her title at the university – who made those money decisions. My son and I explained our situation. My son assured her that he would work all year at his part-time job, go to Greenwood, and pay tuition monthly. I am certain no one had ever asked for this before. Typical Greenwood students didn’t need this. We did.

To our relief and everlasting delight, she agreed. He worked nights, went to Greenwood, and graduated with his friends, all of whom have done well in their own fields and are successes.

So is my son. He worked his way through college, and has a good, responsible job. He is looking at early retirement in a year because he’s in a position to do so. His Greenwood friends still matter in his life. They continue to help each other. They do what friends do.

“It made all the difference,” my son wrote in an email to me today. Today, had he needed that tuition, I could have written him a check for the amount. I couldn’t, all those years ago. Someone helped us when we needed help.

When I watch “Secret Santa” online in my comfortable home, I am reminded how we sometimes get lucky, and sometime, someone cares enough to help. What better time than now?

Luckily for us those years ago in August – not Christmas – a kind lady listened to a mother and her son, saw their need and their sincerity, and helped them. I’ll always be thankful for her willingness to bend a rule or two and give my son a chance. 

There’s no better time of year to be reminded of gifts than right now. Some are gifts you can’t spend. They don’t wear out, and they teach lessons, maybe even sermons. (I hardly need add that since then, my son helps others and so do I.)

Thanks, nice lady. What you did changed a life. Maybe two lives.