The picture above shows what greeted me when I arrived at Father Mercredi High School on Friday morning. That, people, is an enormous pile of frozen turkeys, sitting outside the gymnasium doors. What's up with the turkeys, you ask? Well, it was packing and delivery day for the Santas Anonymous program, an effort that is now in it's 27th year at Father Merc. Those turkeys were just waiting to be placed into hampers and driven to their final destination - the homes of those who had applied for the help from Santas Anonymous to provide Christmas for their families.
When I walked into the school the lobby was quiet, but the signs of Santas Anonymous were everywhere. There were signs about all the related activities, and signs like the one above just reminding the students what has been going in in the school the last few weeks. I wondered a bit about why there was no apostrophe in the word "Santas" - being a writer I notice things like that. The explanation for that came a bit later on, though. What I knew about Santas Anonymous was that individuals in the city who are struggling financially and may be unable to provide food and gifts for their families can apply for a hamper. This year the program packed approximately 540 hampers - which means that is 540 families and individuals who get to celebrate a happy Christmas when it could have been a very sad one.
When I arrived in the main gymnasium I found hundreds of students, teachers, volunteers - and mountains of hampers, ready to go, and piles of toys, food, and other items still waiting the final packing. There was a brief liturgy and the priest delivered a lovely homily about the meaning of Christmas and what is being done by the students at Father Mercredi. Then there was a brief ceremony to acknowledge the program leaders and individuals who had contributed heavily to it's success. I had noted several students standing at the front holding teddy bears throughout the liturgy and the ceremony, and was curious as to the reason.
The program leaders asked those who had received awards of recognition to sit on a sofa in front of the assembled students. Then all those students who had been clutching those bears paraded past, handing the bears to those on the sofa, until what remained was this :
It was a lovely tradition to recognize those who made extra special efforts to ensure the success of Santas Anonymous. Then the real work of Santas Anonymous began, though. There were hampers still to be packed, gifts to be wrapped, food to be sorted through, and deliveries to be made. There was no time to be idle, people.
Everywhere I looked I saw smiling faces. I saw leadership in action. I saw high school students, one of those groups that we often distrust and malign, doing something phenomenal. Something amazing. Something life changing. And I don't think they even know it.
You see, people, when I was in high school there were many things I didn't yet understand. One of the biggest was the potential impact of a single intentional act. I didn't understand that a single act of kindness - a smile, a kind word, or a Christmas hamper provided on a year when things seem bleak - can change the trajectory of a life. Those simple acts can provide hope to the hopeless. They can renew trust in a heart that has grown wary. They can make someone who has lost faith believe again. They can change a life, not just for a moment, and not just for one Christmas, but forever. A single intentional act can change the world, even if for just one person - but then that one person may go on to perform intentional acts that change the world for others. And suddenly that single intentional act is hundreds of kindnesses. Thousands. And even millions.
I didn't know that in high school, people, and I suspect the students at Father Mercredi don't realize this yet, either. The energy was intense yesterday, and the atmosphere brimmed with enthusiasm, happiness, and warmth. It was truly like Santas Workshop, but much better. You notice there is no apostrophe in that "Santas" - and that's because as I learned yesterday with this program there is no one single Santa - there is instead dozens.
Dozens of students performing intentional acts of kindness. Dozens of students giving of their time, their energy, and their hearts. Dozens of community leaders being born, and dozens learning how to give instead of just receive. And, in my mind, dozens of students changing the world. Maybe they don't know that yet. Maybe they don't realize how those toys and turkeys, cans of beans and tins of tuna, can change the world. But they are. One person, one Christmas hamper, and one intentional act at a time. Maybe they don't know that yet, but I do. And I am so profoundly grateful to each and every student who has chosen to change the world. I am grateful because they are doing it without even knowing they are, and they are doing what they do simply because it feels good to do it. They are changing our world, and theirs. Today I take this opportunity to tell them that - and to tell them how proud I am of every single one of them. They are our future. They are our hope. And this year they are the symbols of an intentional act of kindness changing the world. Thank you, Father Mercredi students - for changing the world. Forever. For the better.