Thank you all so much. It is truly a pleasure (goose-bumps, tears, warm-fuzzies) to be a part of so much love being poured out on so many children/families, especially time of year. A ton of grateful hearts, smiles, and many hugs (and all of this before they even went outside to receive their gifts that were wrapped up with care and intent: the look of awe/amazement/pure excitement and loss of words that you all envisioned when you were finalizing your gifts all came to fruition yesterday in Wimauma.
I received so many hugs (all intended for you folks; again I thank you), and saw a group of over 200 people who were so appreciative of the generosity from all of you that I get all emotionally choked up just thinking about the potential impact that was made on this community.
From soccer balls and barbies, to clothes and gift cards, and all the way up through bicycles and helmets, the gifts and joy went on-and-on. One little shy girl who hasn't been willing to even say hello to me, came back into the church to give me a hug after receiving her gift (thank you for that Sestlavie Bridges); a mom who received a giftcard to help her/family out beyond the gifts themselves came back in and hung around to say "please thank Pedro very much for me" (thank you MAJ Rosario); we brought children out of the group onto the church stage and sang Christmas songs, had drawings randomly for Publix giftcards, gave out sponsored gifts to 187 children, and fed between 250-300 people (thank you everyone again for coming together and making this possible).
This all finished up yesterday, but it started weeks ago. It took commitment to sign up for each of these children and then additional time/resources to actually go out and do the shopping (fun for many, possible nightmares for others (if you're like me in department stores). Then the wrapping and packaging to make the gifts really "pop" and delight the intended child, also took additional time, and many of you are professional wrappers (tickled me to see all the fancy bows and curled ribbons). Lastly, getting all of those gifts to me by a set date worked like clock-work.
Even God decided to show-up and show-out in this process. I had feared that perhaps we had taken on too much this year and there was no way possible to get all this done and for so many people. Doubt just kept creeping into my head and heart. Last Wednesday after receiving the last load of gifts here at work, I was heading home and received a call from the pastor's wife. Another contributor was dropping off their gifts then (instead of the weekend) and needed to meet within the next 45 minutes in Wimauma. I headed directly there (maybe breaking some speeding signs) and made it within a minute of them getting there. One of the children (and mom) from our list was there as well, but only because some other contributor dropped off a lot of used (but in great shape) children's clothing. This family was unexpectedly heading to Texas (family reasons) and was coming by to take some of the clothes to children also in desperate need. But since they were leaving unexpected, this family wouldn't be at the gift distribution. It took me several moments, but then I realized that I actually had this child's gift in my truck (along with about 44 other gifts from MacDill) since I had gone directly there. I dug out the gift and presented it to the young boy and his mother. The mom thought that he had asked for a giftcard (many of the children asked for a Walmart giftcard to buy clothes). What he specifically asked for, was a giftcard to take his mom out to lunch. What he received, was a giftcard that could be used at any of several different restaurants (on the way to Texas), some additional cash (in case the bill was higher and to have for tip money), and a Walmart giftcard for his mom. The two of them were so thankful, therefore once again more hugs for me (thank you Kearston Jones). Don't tell me that God wasn't showing off to pull all the right events to line up this situation (the unexpected clothing donation, the folks coming in unannounced with their children gift drop off, my truck being loaded with gifts to include this child, and the timing with traffic (and no speeding tickets) to get everyone there at just the right time. I later found myself sobbing at home when I realized what I had just been a part of. Now, multiply that by the number that was there yesterday, and I say once again, thank you all for filling my heart from the outpouring of all your hearts.
Sincerely, Paul Doucette, Christmas Gifts Event Organizer (Pictures will be posted in our Gallery)
I also want to thank some folks that were able to take additional time behind the scenes and at the event:
Wrapping and packaging team (wrapped gifts that were provided from outside of our group for 84 of the 188 children; and assembled 61 family/household bags)
Sean & Kaitlin
Food prep team (prepared and provided items such as sandwiches, homemade cookies, brownies, and other desserts, and drinks)
COL Bean & sons
Shan-dog & co.
Donna & hub
Marilyn & Jim
The Lord's Lighthouse
Decorating team (converted sanctuary to festive atmosphere and added six rows of seating to accommodate crowd size)
Elves/helpers (stuck it out through the heat greeting everyone with smiles, treating them like their own families, and representing us all proudly and humbly)
COL Bean & Sons: Crowd Control Manager and fluff n' nutter distributors
Shan-Dog & Co: Main escorts
Chief Delgado & future Mrs Chief: Family kit team and translator
Jim & Marilyn: Family escort and drink providers
Dianna & Ryan: Cookie and other dessert dispensers
Jimenez family: candy sharers
Donna: Story teller and solo singer
Beth, Jennifer, Daniela: Photographer and assistants
Gio Jimenez: GIFTMAN (passed out every individual gift to each child). This is the job where you get to see the joy (or terror) on each face
Household/life support team
Beth Doucette: special thanks and all my love to this wonderful, beautiful, control-freak who fought her personality composition and once again allowed our home to be transformed into the northpole-south for another short hectic couple of weeks.