Christmas Eve is always a hectic day at Open Arms with everyone working hard to package and deliver meals as early as possible so that our clients, as well as our volunteers and staff, can enjoy the holiday. By , all of the meals are en route to being delivered and we are waiting for drivers to return their delivery bags.
By in the afternoon I usually tell the Open Arms staff to leave so they can have more time with their families. I stay a bit longer to greet the last of the drivers who are returning their bags and to answer the phone should any clients call with questions.
This Christmas Eve, just as I was about to turn out the lights, a client called inquiring about meals that he was anticipating, but that hadn’t arrived. When I explained to him that he wasn’t on the list for a delivery, he was very understanding and wished me a happy holiday.
Before hanging up, I asked the client if he had any food to eat. He said he didn’t, but that could buy a few things at neighborhood market to hold him over until we resumed normal deliveries the following week. Since he would be alone for the holiday, he didn’t need too much food anyway.
I asked the client to hold as I looked in our coolers to see if there were meals I could deliver to him. We did have extra meals, but I was on a tight schedule. A bakery across town was willing to donate bread to Open Arms if I could get there before they closed in an hour. I thought I could do both – deliver meals to our client and make it to the bakery before it closed – but only if the client could meet me on the street in front of his apartment building so I could double park and hand off the meals to him.
Our client was very grateful, telling me that he would be waiting for me in the lobby and that he would run out to my car to get his meals. Ten minutes later, I was on the street in front of our client’s building and before I could pull the meals from the insulated delivery bag, the client was standing next to me. As I handed our client his meals, he handed me a gift – an amber votive candle holder with an electronic candle that flashes a yellow flame.
This gift, this unexpected gesture, completely altered my day. Instead of Christmas Eve being a laundry list of activities to be checked off before enjoying the holiday, those activities themselves – from going to the bakery to a last minute stop at the post office – became part of the enjoyment of the day.
I came to work at Open Arms in 1997 to help improve the quality of the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. What I found, however, is that most of my time as executive director is taken up with administrative tasks, strategic planning, budgeting, and fundraising. At this point, I have little interaction with the clients we serve. This brief Christmas Eve encounter with one of our clients reminded me of why I got into this work in the first place. It also showed me, yet again, that I receive much more from my work than I give.