“A Scout is Helpful. A Scout cares about other people. He willingly volunteers to help others without expecting payment or reward.”
Scouts do their best to help others, taking time to do a daily good turn and participate in service projects as a troop or on their own.
After reading the story discuss it with your Scouts and reflect on how both the Scouts and the family were blessed by the Scouts’ desire to be helpful. Ask them about opportunities this holiday season to be more helpful.
The Year Santa Came in a Scout Uniform
In the spirit of the season, Troop 686 decided to do a service project. After long discussion, someone suggested doing a Sub-for-Santa as a project. A telephone call to the program duly provided the address and names and ages of the Jones* family: father – Jim, mother – Agnes, 17 year-old daughter – Mary, 15 year-old daughter – June, 6 year-old son – Fred, and a married daughter – April with an infant son – Jerry. We were instructed to visit the family to assess needs and obtain sizes and likes and dislikes, so the Senior Patrol Leader called and made an appointment to meet with the family. Because there were 26 boys in the troop, it was decided that only the Patrol Leader’s Council and Scoutmaster would make the initial visit.
The weather was cold with snow falling on the evening of the visit. We knocked and the mother invited us in. The house was dark and cold, and the mother apologized, explaining that the heat was set on low and few lights were on because they were trying to save on the heating and electricity. To keep warm, the family were all wearing coats and the baby was wrapped in blankets. The father told us he had lost his job at Geneva Steel during the summer, and he had been unable to find work. The birth of the baby had been difficult, and the medical bills were being paid as they could. The baby’s father was in the military, stationed at a distant base, and currently the only wage-earner in the family. For Christmas, the family was hoping we could provide new coats, shoes, and maybe some more blankets for everyone. The married daughter was also hoping for a suitcase so she could travel to be with her husband. She thought the military might cover her plane ticket. Fred wanted some toys and a Christmas tree, but his mother told him it was too much to expect of us.
I asked, “Hey guys, I need to talk to Mom and Dad, why don’t you take everybody else in the kitchen and serve the cocoa and cookies we brought?” and they quickly disappeared through the door to the kitchen. I asked what else they might want us to get, but a job was all they wanted. After a few minutes, I collected the boys and we left.
It was uncharacteristically quiet in the van as we headed for home, and I think there were some tears. I know there were some faces being hidden. Then someone said, “How can anyone live like that?” “Yeah, that house was so dirty, I was afraid to sit down.” “The table was dirtier than the table at Maple Dell.” “I bet those girls don’t have any boyfriends.” “Yeah, they sure looked like they all had cooties.” “I don’t know, I’ll bet they look nice when they go to church.” “You dummy, didn’t you hear her say they don’t go to church anymore cause they don’t have anything to wear?” “Did you see what was in the fridge?” “Yeah, nothin!” Long pause. “My dad lost his job once, and we had to make all our Christmas presents.” “What did the Mom and Dad say?” “That all he wanted was a job.” “What did the Mom want?” “Hope.” “What’s that?” “You dope, you don’t know what hope is?” “No, but my Mom says it’s OK as long as you have it.”
It was quiet for a while, and then someone said, “My Dad got an extra turkey from work, can we give them that?” “Yes, we can.” “That little boy sure was hungry, he musta ate half the cookies.” “Yeah, we gotta make sure we get them all the trimmings for a Christmas dinner.” “And a Christmas tree!” “But I bet they don’t got any ornaments for it.” “Don’t HAVE, you dummy.” “I can find out if they have ornaments.” “We have so many, we could give them some of ours.” “That little boy sure wanted a Christmas tree.” “Can we give them some hope?” “That’s stupid, you can’t put hope in a box!”
Troop meeting was noisier than usual, but eventually they settled on selling baked goods and holding a spaghetti dinner for fundraisers, and each of them agreed to find something their family could give. The Scoutmaster’s minute was about hope. I explained, “Hope is an expectation that things will get better, and what you are doing will bring hope to that family. Just knowing that someone cares about you can bring hope for a better future. Your families all care about you, so you have faith that you will be warm and have enough to eat.” They reminded me that we had to find out if they had ornaments for a Christmas tree and to find out what kind of pies they liked best, and I agreed to visit the family again, which I did a few days later. During the visit, I told them a little of what the troop was planning to do for them so they would know what to expect when we came on Christmas eve.
Christmas Eve came and we loaded everybody and everything into my van and parents’ cars, including one Dad in a Santa suit. When we went in the house, I was shocked. While the Scouts put up the tree and helped decorate it and put the presents around it, I studied the house. It was clean, the floors were scrubbed, the dishes were washed and drying in a rack, and the still shabby walls had a fresh coat of paint. Their clothes were still worn, but clean, and the girls had their hair in ribbons. The Scouts played with the baby and Fred and flirted with Mary and June while they shared cocoa and the cookies, cakes and muffins left from the bake sale. The young mother cried when they gave her a suitcase with a plane ticket inside. As we left, I noticed there was no star on top of the tree, instead there was a sign that read:
They had found a way to put hope in a box!
The boys in Troop 686 are now grown men with families of their own, and I am sure the years have embellished my memories of that Christmas, but I am even more certain that the Scout Spirit they experienced that Christmas still gives them hope, no matter their circumstances.
Author: Lee D. Hansen | Utah National Parks Council Learning for Life Chairman and Scoutmaster of 686 for more than 20 years
*The names have been changed.