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Challenge: It's Back to School: Share Your Advice

Used Crayons: A School Supply Story

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For the past ten years, my family has hosted an annual school supply drive with all donations benefitting local veteran’s families. Book bags, pencil cases, folders, lunch sacks…you name it; we collect it. Over the years we’ve been relatively successful, but for added insurance, my husband and I budget some of our own money to ensure these families have everything they need to head back to school. However, this year’s collection was particularly abysmal, having only one family who donated to our cause. Nevertheless, we did our best, putting aside a little bit from each paycheck until we were able to purchase enough supplies to help about 18 soldier’s children in early August.

When you’re a social worker, people come to you for help. There are times in this profession when logically, your mind tells you to say “no,” but your heart has other ideas. So, when a colleague emailed me last week about a family with two little girls in need of school supplies, my guttural reaction was to spring into action. The problem was our family was not in the financial position to help provide for everything these children needed.

We’ve had a rough summer, and my health has been failing. As a cancer survivor, who lost her sight as a result of treatment, it sometimes feels as though I will never live as a healthy person. To further complicate matters, our lack of donations this year meant I literally had nothing left to give.

I was in the basement of our house rummaging around containers, when my 5-year-old daughter, Nuala, snuck up on me.

“What are you doing, mommy?” she asked.

“I’m looking to see if we have any leftover crayons and markers. Mommy’s friend has two little girls who need some help to get everything they need to go back to school.”

My daughter looked confused.

“Is their mommy a soldier?” she asked.

“No baby, she’s just a mommy who needs a little extra help to make sure her little girls have a good school year. Mommies try to help other mommies if they can.”

“But we gave everything away already. Are you going to be able to help them, mommy?”

“I’m don’t know honey, but I’m looking really hard around the house to see what we have to help fill their lists,” I answered.

I told my daughter to go find her sister so I could brush their teeth for bed. By the time I climbed back upstairs from my basement, my children were nowhere to be found. I was highly annoyed since it was getting late and I was feeling drained from my basement school supply scavenger hunt.

From the bottom of the stairs, I screamed: “You two better get down here right now!”

Hurriedly, my little girls appeared, both in matching Fancy Nancy nightgowns.

“What took you so long?” I said sternly to my eldest. “Didn’t I tell you mommy wanted to brush your teeth?”

She reached up and grabbed my hand, placing some crumpled pieces of paper inside it. At first, I thought she had drawn me a picture, but then I realized she had given me several dollar bills.

My youngest daughter, Aoife, handed me a few coins and a box of used Crayola crayons.

I didn’t have to ask. I knew what was happening before they uttered a single word.

Me and Aoife want to help the two little girls who need school supplies. We opened the piggy banks upstairs, and you can use the money to buy what they need.” Nuala said.

“They can have my old crayons in case we don’t have enough money to buy them new ones” my three-year-old chimed in.

Before I could collect myself to get a word in edgewise, Nuala, interjected: “And we don’t have to go to Applebee’s on Friday.”

I had promised the girls we would go to Applebee’s as a special treat after my eye doctor’s appointment.

“If we don’t go, then I bet we will have enough money. Right, mommy?”

I think my heart about burst out of my chest standing in my living room that night. Two little girls, 5 and 3 years old, not quite old enough to understand the value of a dollar, but apparently able to comprehend the concept of kindness.

We placed their money in a Ziploc bag, along with the box of used crayons. The family outing to Applebee’s was canceled, and we combined our funds to put in an order to Staples instead. My kids helped me rummage through the house to find extra folders, some rulers, copy paper and the unopened hand sanitizer. My husband gave me the go-ahead to purchase two new book bags, with matching lunch sacks, for two children who were not his own.

Our family rallied to help another family, that we don’t know, and who we will probably never meet. For every difficulty, we have faced this summer, it’s funny how life gives you a new perspective – even when you happen to be blind.

No matter how difficult things are for you, there are always people who are facing challenges much more significant than your own.

If you find yourself able to sacrifice, even in the face of personal hardship, you will find there is beauty in generosity and a precious, untainted purity within your children’s hearts. For all the times I’ve made mistakes as a parent, I must be doing something right, and for that, I am truly blessed.


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