For many, the holidays can be a a time for anxiety — in part because of the financial pressures posed by the season of giving.
But some, whose anxieties have been eased in the past by generous organizations, are now giving their own assistance to the groups that helped them get through the holidays.
Jennifer went through a rough patch about 25 years ago. A single mother who had just been through some extreme personal difficulties, she was concerned about making Christmas a happy one for her 6-year-old daughter in Cody.
“At the time, I didn’t have a job,” said Jennifer, who asked that her last name not be used. “And I had my daughter, and my mom and dad were taking care of my rent and stuff, but there wasn’t really extra money. I don’t remember exactly how I got in contact with Holiday Helpers, but they let me come out to the armory, and I went through and picked some items for my daughter for Christmas.”
In addition to gifts for her little girl, Jennifer said she was able to pick out some clothes for herself that had been donated.
“I was always so grateful for that,” she said. “And so I continued to receive a couple years after that until I got more on my feet, and then I felt like I really needed to give back.”
Jennifer started giving back by wrapping gifts for other recipients shortly after that first year, even though she was still receiving assistance herself.
“I went in and wrapped a few times by myself, and then I started taking my daughter with me,” she said. “I did different things different years – I’ve shopped in the past, I’ve helped fill boxes, I delivered packages for quite a few years, I’ve run errands if they need that. Now I’m there every disbursement day.”
Jacque Sims, who has been the Holiday Helpers coordinator for over 20 years, said she has witnessed countless ways in which people give back to the organization after being helped themselves.
“One year, this gentleman came up and he put a $10 bill in my hand,” Sims recalled. “And I said, ‘No, this is free. You don’t have to do it.’ And this gentleman starts tearing up and says ‘No, you don’t understand, without you, my children and I have no Christmas.’”
Another time, Sims said the group was short on volunteers, and the people who were waiting to receive their share jumped in to help.
“One year we didn’t have any volunteers show up to help load the boxes out,” she said. “And I kid you not, the guys who were standing in line said, ‘I’m going to help them,’ and some of them stayed all day long to help us. They are more than willing to give back.”
Sims has witnessed other ways in which the recipients of assistance from Holiday Helpers go out of their way to help others in tough situations.
“People were going down and picking up their Cody Cupboard (food distribution) and then coming down to us, and I’d see two baskets of food in their vehicles,” she said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s kind of greedy.’ And then I thought about it — some of these people don’t own cars, so people are out there helping each other. The community support from everywhere is incredible, because everybody wants to help somebody.”
The spirit of good will at this time of year is infectious, according to Wendi Henderson, who runs the Toys for Tots program in Cheyenne. The program serves around 2,000 children in Laramie County and Henderson coordinates between 45 and 70 volunteers at any one time during the holiday season.
Henderson said many of the volunteers who offer assistance have been recipients of the program in the past.
“We have had people come and just bring us a big shopping cart full of toys,” she said. “Why? Because we helped them in years that they were having a really hard time. So it does work both ways.”
Henderson said she has had the opportunity to get to know some of the families that Toys for Tots assists and her heart goes out to them.
“I’ve gotten to know some of them pretty well, and we’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations about situations and what’s going on in their life,” she said. “We have an awful lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren, because of what our society’s like right now, and a couple of great-grandmothers raising their great-grandchildren. It’s just real rough on people right now, especially with us coming out of COVID and going back into COVID.
“But they do come back to help,” she continued. “It may not be in the form of coming in and working the warehouse, but they might work the parade with me. There are volunteers that have received from us and then volunteer for us.”
Jennifer’s involvement with Holiday Helpers is now multi-generational.
“My daughter has also been a recipient in the past,” she said. “And she now comes in and helps. She’s helped us on disbursement day, she tries to go down and wrap packages. And my granddaughter, if you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s a full blown Holiday Helper.”
“You say, ‘Gosh, I know that I made a difference this year,’ because you can just see it in their faces when you see the anguish go away, when they see the stuff they’ve gotten,” Sims said. “I mean, people need to know they are important and people care. We all care. This whole community cares. It’s incredible.”