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Fourteen-year-old Jonathon and his mother went to four different stores before they finally found the perfect athletic shoes for a high school freshman.

It was an exhausting search, his mom said, but Jonathon was determined to get just the right pair. And when he found them, he was incredibly happy.

But these shoes weren’t for Jonathon; the pair was for another 14-year-old boy whom they've never met. Jonathon and his mom were volunteer shoppers for a local effort providing gifts for families in need.

So, why the intense search?

“Jonathon realized this other boy was without something Jonathan normally has. It’s easy to take things for granted until you’re reminded of those who do without.”

My family also shopped for friends in need — a group of women, ages 32 to 77.

One woman wanted a sweatshirt, another wanted house slippers and colorful socks.

A third woman asked only for food; specifically cereal, popcorn and 7-Up.

"We're on it!" we said, grabbing the list and heading out the door. My daughter and I went to buy the clothing while my husband headed to the grocery store.

We didn’t know anything about “our ladies” except their first names and sizes. Whoever wrote the lists added a few notes such as, “Mary is always smiling.”

Pretty soon we were talking about the women as if we knew them.

“Do you think Mary would like this sweatshirt with a snowflake on it?” I said.

“No,” said my daughter. “She can’t wear it year round.” Good point. So we chose one decorated with a heart.

The stores were crowded, and while I had the satisfaction of doing something nice for someone, I was anxious to finish the chore. The joy of giving had not kicked in. It was just one more thing to get done.

At home, my husband shared the results of his shopping expedition. In addition to cereal and soda, he purchased a large tin filled with three kinds of popcorn. The tin was decorated with pictures of puppies in Santa Claus hats.

Oh, we loved that! Surely, we said, the ladies will like it, too.

Our shopping instructions said the gifts should be wrapped, so I headed to the basement to dig out the holiday wrapping paper.

My mother, a retired Hallmark store owner, is terrific at wrapping presents and creates amazing ribbon bows. They're like works of art. But I didn't inherit the fancy wrapper gene. I just cover the surface of the gift with paper (almost all of it, anyway), tape a crooked edge and stick a pre-made bow on it. Bah humbug.

But a funny thing happened. As I was cutting the paper, the holiday spirit began to move me. I envisioned “our ladies” on Christmas morning, receiving these gifts selected just for them. Would Mary like the slippers? Would the women laugh at the puppies on the popcorn tin?

Then I knew the presents had to be the most beautifully wrapped gifts ever. I cut straight. I neatly folded the corners. I put in extra colorful tissue paper and curled the ribbon.

“Wow,” said my husband. “Did your mother help you?”

“These may be the only gifts they get,” I said, “and I want them to look perfect.”

And with the tying of the last ribbon, a feeling of genuine happiness surged within me. Oh, it felt so good!

When the rush of the holidays starts to wear you down; nothing perks you up like the joy of giving. It really is incredible.

Christmas is still more than two weeks away, and there are local programs which still need volunteer shoppers. It doesn’t take lots of money or time. But the joy you feel from helping others may be the best gift you will receive all season.

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Contact Susan Hazlett at or write to her in care of The Pantagraph, 301 W. Washington St., Bloomington, IL 61702-2907.


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