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As most of you know by now, the original post I made regarding answering children's letters to Santa as a holiday project (entitled "Holiday Idea") was answered by numerous LBYM-ers who wanted to participate in this annual ritual. Together, this group of "elves" and I devised a way to make this project possible (see posts entitled "Crazy Idea" and "Up To My Ears In Presents"). I promised that I would post the results of our experiment on the LBYM board as soon as we were done with the deliveries, as a Christmas present to the board and as thanks to the elves. What follows is a detailed account of our deliveries today - please settle in for a good read and find out what your fellow LBYM-ers have been up to this holiday season. (As promised, no elf will be identified - instead, I'll just note the first name of each child, so that each elf can know how his or her individual delivery went). What is particularly incredible and moving about these elves is that they gave any way they could - by buying, by donating, by hunting thrift stores, by scouring online auctions, by looking through their children's old clothes for potential gifts - any way they could manage it, they gave of themselves and their hearts. I hope you will all understand, after reading this, why Nick and I consider this Christmas to be our most extraordinary yet.

Our first delivery was to Lamont, a 5-year-old boy. Lamont's mother had written a very touching letter asking for some help with buying him a winter coat ("I prayed to God for an answer and this is where He led me"). We trudged up to the apartment building and rang the buzzer. "Who is it?" asked a voice over the intercom. Santa, we said, starting to giggle (we can't help laughing whenever we say that). A long silence ensued. Then, hesitantly, over the intercom: "Is - is is this for my baby?" You bet, we answered. A shout of joy from inside, then footsteps running down the stairs, and a tiny little boy pulled open the door and beamed up at us. His mother stood at the top of the stairs, waving us up. We carried the boxes up the stairs, and as soon as we got into her apartment, she burst into tears (this, of course, made me burst into tears). Lamont was dancing around the boxes in a kind of amazed glee. "It was his birthday a few days ago," she told us, "You have no idea what this means to me." We had so many deliveries to make, and we were so worried about finishing them all, that we wiped our eyes and started to leave, but she grabbed our arms at the door. "Wait," she said, "You have to tell me - who *are* you?" It doesn't matter who we are, Nick said. Besides, I added, the gifts didn't come from us. They came from a person in a far-away state. "But how is that even possible?" Lamont's mother asked. And then: "Can you please give this person a message from me? Tell them this." And she threw her arms around me, gave me a tight hug, and kissed me on both cheeks. Her absolute love for her son was so apparent, I can't even explain what it was like - we felt so good for Lamont, simply because he had her for a mother. A few minutes later we were back in the car, driving on to our next delivery.

Next was Terri (8 years old) and Tony (12 years old). Terri had written a heart-breaking letter, asking for some winter clothes for herself and her brother Tony ("My mom doesn't have custody of us ... our foster mother says she can't afford to give us anything for Christmas"). We walked up the stairs and knocked on the door, since the door to the building was broken and the buzzer didn't work. A woman came to the door, and we explained that we were there for Terri and Tony. Tony was out, she replied, but Terri was there. All of a sudden, the faces of about six children appeared in the doorway (we think they were all foster children, based on what the woman said). Before we could even tell Terri why we were there, she had buried herself in my arms. She was so tiny. Nick and I often talk about how it is the children who do this - who cling to us - who worry us. Kids who feel loved and fussed over by parents rarely hug us spontaneously. They always have to be coached by their parents ("Don't you want to give Santa a hug?"). This, we feel, is a good sign. These kids have already been "filled up" on hugs - they know they are loved, and they are not starved for affection or kindness. Terri, however, looked so vulnerable. We gave her the presents, but she dove right for the card. As we walked back down the stairs, holding tight to each other's hands, we could hear her little voice float down the stairwell, reading the first line of the elf's card to her over and over again: "Dear Terri, Santa thinks you are a very special person." We had to take a few breaths before our next delivery.

Next was Ruth, a house-bound senior citizen who had written in asking for an eye exam and a pair of glasses ("Dear Santa, I am a bit older than the average kid"). With our help, Ruth's elf had located a nearby optomotrist who was willing to accept a "gift certificate" for his services. This elf also arranged for Ruth to have a car take her to get the glasses. We were simply delivering all of this information (names, phone numbers), and the gift certificates. We knocked on the door. Ruth's grandchildren happened to be visiting that afternoon, so they let us in. Ruth was sitting in the living room on the couch. She was really beautiful in that way that women in their 70s and 80s are. We told her why we were there, and at first, I don't think she believed us. Then her eyes filled up, and her daughter (the children's mother), who had also started crying, said, "You can't know how much this means to her ... now she'll be able to knit again, she'll be able to read." We told Ruth where her gifts came from, and she asked if we would pray with her for a moment, to thank G-d for answering her prayer. We replied that we'd be honored, and so we held Ruth's hands and bowed our heads for a moment, and I couldn't help but wonder if Ruth's elf knew that he was being spoken about in a prayer at that very minute. A few minutes after that, we were back in the car, navigating the snowy streets.

The next delivery was to Michelle, a 13-year-old girl who had written in asking for a coat for her mother and some winter clothes for herself ("I am writing you for my mother, she is a good mother. She has had two operations on her legs. She has worked so hard all her life .... I did not ask for toys, because I know my mom needs a winter coat."). We were now driving in a particularly bad section of the city, and as we pulled up, a number of young men who had been standing in a group on the corner waved us over. I had a feeling that they were looking out for us - they seemed very kind, and quite astute about where it was safe for us to walk given that no one in the neighborhood knew us. "We're looking for a young girl named Michelle," I told them, "We have Christmas presents for her and her mother." Lo and behold, we soon had a formal escort walking us to Michelle's building, while other young men stayed with our car to "keep an eye out for it," as they said. We rang the buzzer on Michelle's door, and we heard her feet thunk-thunk-thunking down the stairs. "What is it?" she asked us quizzically when she saw us. "Did you write a letter to Santa?" Nick asked. Michelle's mouth fell open in astonishment, and then in a split second, she had whirled around and raced back up the stairs (THUNK-THUNK-THUNK), screaming, "MOM! MOM! YOU HAVE A COAT!" Michelle called us upstairs - her mother was having difficulty walking downstairs - and when we got to the top floor, we were both embraced at the same time, one of us in each arm. Michelle was crying, her mother was crying ("I can't believe you did this, Michelle! A coat!"), and soon we found ourselves sipping hot chocolate in Michelle's kitchen and trying to explain to her mother all about the LBYM board and an elf in a far-away state. Then: back to the car, where we were given terrific directions by our escort, and onto the next delivery.

Our next delivery was to Terrell, a young boy (he didn't give his age, but his handwriting pegged him for about 7) who had written in asking for a coat for his mother ("I just want a new coat for my mom ... We love her very much"). We knocked on the door, and heard all sorts of scurrying and rustling inside. A few moments later, a very tired-looking woman opened the door. As soon as the door was open, we were so thankful for the gifts that this elf had chosen for Terrell - because Terrell had failed to mention that he was one child among six! Their little faces peeked out from behind their mother, all grinning. Luckily, Terrell's gifts all could be played by many children of varying age levels. "Terrell wrote Santa a letter," we began by way of introduction, but before we could say any more, Terrell had jumped into my arms. Not even distracted by the colorful wrapped presents, Terrell - who never made a peep - just hung onto my coat and buried his head in my stomach. We explained to his mother what Terrell had done, and she quietly began to cry. Nick brought the presents inside and began to give them to the children, while I just hugged Terrell's mother. When she thanked me, I explained that the gifts hadn't come from us - they had been sent by someone in a far-away state. This seemed to overwhelm her, and she hugged me again, saying, "You don't know what it's like for someone to be this kind - it's been so hard for our family, we've fallen on hard times lately, and for someone to be this kind - please tell them I will remember them in my prayers." More hugs from Terrell, who was now smiling shyly and sweetly - and taking the admiration of his brothers and sisters in stride - and we were back on the road.

Our next delivery was to Bryan, a 12-year-old boy, his 14-year-old cousin, and his 3-year-old brother. Bryan had written a letter asking for winter coats for the three boys ("My mother takes care of my cousin too .... Sometimes things get a little rough for us"). We knocked on the door, and an adolescent boy answered. "Are you Bryan?" we asked. We got a flippant teenaged "Who are you?" in return. "Santa," we replied with a straight face. Suddenly his whole face lit up and, grinning, he let us inside. "Who is that?" squeaked the three-year-old. "Santa," we answered - sending the little boy running down the hallway to his mother's room, screaming in a frenzy of delight. "Bryan," Mom called out from down the hall, "Who is it?" "What is your name?" Bryan whispered. "Santa," we answered. Bryan gave us a look full of 12-year-old attitude - "Please don't make me say that!" he begged. And then, rolling his eyes and grinning, "Mom - it's Santa." A long silence from down the hall. "Bryan, don't give me any lip! Who is at the door?!" The 3-year-old was shrieking at ear-splitting volume, and Mom wandered down the hall, looking at us in a confused way. We were quiet while Bryan explained to his mother that he had written a letter, and then - to our absolute amazement - *she* screamed with delight at an ear-splitting decibel ("You can see where he gets it from," Bryan said wryly, pointing at his mother and 3-year-old brother). We tried to explain that the gifts came from far away, but she kept screaming and smothering us with kisses, so we're not sure she ever really heard us. As we were leaving amidst a tidal wave of joyful screaming, Bryan walked over and - in a pure 12-year-old compliment - shoved us both and said, "Hey. Thanks. This is really cool." Ah - a shove and a "cool" - that's how you know you've touched the heart of an adolescent boy!

Our next delivery was to Tameka, an 18-year-old girl who had written in for her 1.5-year-old daughter asking for some help with Christmas ("I'm trying to the best of my ability to do everything I can to make our life better"). The buzzer downstairs was broken, and her name wasn't on the door, so we went inside and began to walk up the stairs. A handsome young man walking down the stairs asked if he could help us, and when we asked if he knew Tameka, he paused. "This isn't - is this about that letter she wrote to Santa?!" Yes, we said, it sure is. "She was just telling me yesterday that she had lost all hope for Christmas!" he shouted, and gestured us up the stairs. He was apparently there to pick up Tameka and her daughter, and take them to church. He ushered us into an empty apartment, and then darted into the next room to find Tameka. When I say that this apartment was empty, I mean that there was not one single piece of furniture in it - but on the walls, framed and hung with care, were numerous pictures of people who we assumed were Tameka's parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Next to those pictures were framed prints of Martin Luther King Jr. And there, in the corner, was a tiny little christmas tree - maybe two feet tall - with not a single present under it. Still, there was a feeling in that room - I can't quite explain it - maybe the word is "dignity." When Tameka walked inside to greet us, we could see why. She exuded strength. She was extremely young, but she was remarkably poised. She was carrying her daughter, who was smiling and sleepy from a nap. We gave the baby the presents one by one, and watched as she toddled them over to the tree and carefuilly placed them under it. Each time, she would shyly turn around and say, "T'ank eww!" before taking the next one ("I taught her to say 'Thank you' as soon as she could talk" Tameka told us proudly). The young man, clearly moved, told us the story of how Tameka "took so much time and effort with her letter," and had "almost despaired of having a Christmas." Our visit was peaceful - almost serene - and Tameka gave us a warm hug as we left.

Our next delivery was for Christina, a 20-year-old young woman who was taking care of two younger siblings ("Any help you could give me would be so appreciated"). We helped this elf amass a large supply of groceries, plus some gift certificates to nearby food and clothing stores. We knocked, but there was no answer. We waited on the stoop awhile, but seeing no one, we eventually turned to go. At that moment, a young woman began to struggle up the steps with a bag of food. I had a feeling that this might be Christina, so I asked her - and indeed it was. She saw the boxes of groceries we had, and she began crying big, exhausted tears. We hugged her and Nick took her package, and then two small girls let us into the apartment. They apologetically explained that they had been instructed to never let strangers into the house, so when they peeked out the window and didn't recognize us ... we assured them that they had done the right thing. Christina clearly had a soft spot for every wounded or needy soul she came across, because in addition to the two sisters she had rescued from an abusive home, she had a bird who couldn't fly, a three-legged dog, and a cat that had been a stray. The apartment was abuzz with noise, and it felt warm and homey. We helped Christina unpack the groceries while we told her the story of her elf, and she cried and grinned and shook her head. "Tell them I love them, whoever they are," she told us as she waved us goodbye.

Our last delivery was to Angela, a 23-year-old young woman who had written in on behalf of her 15-year-old brother Elliot ("Elliot is a ward of the state, and this is a very depressing time of year for him. I'm in desperate need myself, and cannot provide for him."). Angela had requested some warm winter clothes for Elliot. We knocked on Angela's door, hoping against hope that Elliot might be visiting for the holiday. It was really dark and cold by now, and we were in an extremely dangerous neighborhood. Angela answered the door. We told her who we were, and she began to cry. "No, no," she said, "I can't believe it - I never expected anyone to answer the letter." We asked her about Elliot, and she waved us inside and showed us a picture of him hung in her kitchen. "I tried to go see Elliot today," she told us, "But the bus wasn't running regularly, maybe because of the snow." Oh. Well ... how about we all go see him right now? Angela stared at us for a minute, and then grabbed her coat and ran with us to our car. We pulled out our city map and began driving to a residential center for kids who are, in the words of the state, in "substitute care pending independence" - meaning, they're not available for adoption, and they're too old to be placed with a foster family. As we drove, Angela began telling us all about Elliot, how their mother had dropped him off at a state agency when he was10 and had promised to return for him, but never had. Their mother had since disappeared, and Angela was working to save enough money to have Elliot come live with her the following year. We finally arrived at the center, and Angela asked a social worker if we could see Elliot. I saw him loping down the hall toward us a few moments later, too big for his shirt and pants, a tall 15-year-old who looked impossibly sad. Angela tried to explain to him who were were, but she began crying. Nick finished the story for her. When Elliot unwrapped the packages and saw the clothes - flannel shirts, new blue jeans, sweaters, a pair of boots - all in his size, his big eyes filled with tears and he ran his hands through his hair. "I don't get it," he finally said, "Who would do something like this for a kid like me?"

Who indeed.
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