The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘”What should we do?’” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise."
Luke 3: 10, 11
Zara, Adelina, Grace, Joelle, and Paul at this year's charity drive
This past Sunday, in the gray, misty cold of December, my son and I were privileged to attend a hot chocolate stand. That would have been fun and festive enough at this time of year, but this was no ordinary hot chocolate stand. It was nine-year-old Grace’s second year running a charity drive at the end of her driveway for a local faith-based homeless shelter, Grace Centers of Hope. On any given night, this shelter, which receives no government dollars, will accommodate between 150-200 men, women, and children who have nowhere else to go.
We were happy to participate in Grace’s beautiful mission. The thought of a nine-year-old girl with such a loving heart moved me. A little girl who would stand out in the cold for two hours raising money and donations for those who have nothing must have a very big heart, and she does!
As we pulled up to her house, Grace greeted us with a hearty smile—and the cutest hot-chocolate mustache you ever saw. Some kind friends of hers were seated with her, helping collect donations and scooping mini Christmas-tree marshmallows into Styrofoam cups of creamy hot chocolate. Next to the table were many boxes of donations that had already been given.
Handmade signs invited passers-by to stop. My son and I placed our donation with the others and sipped hot chocolate. It felt so warm on such a cold, damp day.
“How wonderful of you to do this,” I said to Grace, who also happens to be my son’s classmate and friend. She humbly grinned a chocolately smile back and adjusted her earmuffs. I greeted her friends, telling them how nice it was of them to sit outside in the cold to keep Grace company.
Just then, a car drove up. An excited man got out, smiling from ear to ear.
“I don’t believe it! A hot chocolate stand? How cool is that?”
Grace giggled. “It’s for charity,” she said. “For the Grace Centers of Hope.”
“Well, I’ve heard of lemonade stands before, but this is really fun!” he exclaimed, as he opened up his wallet and donated generously into a green plastic Christmas bucket with a slit on top. “What a great thing you are doing!” The man was still laughing, smiling, and shaking his head as he got into his car and drove away with his cup of hot chocolate. I think Grace made his day!
I asked Grace’s mom how this heartfelt idea began.
“Last year, right before Thanksgiving, Grace told me she had an idea. She wanted to give out hot chocolate in a stand like a lemonade stand. I assumed she was coming up with another scheme to make money, so I told her no," her mom said. "But Grace was persistent. She explained that she wanted to help the poor. She wanted to give them money and things that they needed but she said she was only 8 years old and did not know how to do it. So she figured if she gave people free hot chocolate, they could give something for the poor and that way she could help them.”
Her parents were floored, since they had never discussed the idea before.
“I asked her what made her come up with this idea and she said she had been thinking about it for a long time and it just came to her. She also said that people want to help more at Christmas time so she thought it would be a good idea to do it near Christmas. She loves hot chocolate, so she was sure that everyone else would want to help the poor for some free hot chocolate. If you could have seen her little face telling this to me, you would have known that it was the Lord speaking through her,” she said.
So Grace made a flyer and decorated it, passing one out to every mailbox in their subdivision. She also gave it out to her classmates at school.
The day finally came, bringing with it snow, freezing cold, and icy, slick roads. Her mother told Grace not to be disappointed if no one came, since the weather was so frightful.
Grace looked at her mother and said, “Mom, you just have to believe.”
“Sure enough, at twelve noon, the cars started sliding up the hill. I thought it was a miracle,” her mom said.
She decided to do it again this year, and it was another successful charity drive at Grace’s house. Her mother told me that this year she ended up with 59 bags of donations and $202.41 to help the poor.
Grace and her friends spread Christmas joy to everyone on Sunday: both to the givers and to the receivers. By giving away one of her favorite things, hot chocolate, she was able to help give a merry Christmas to the cold and hungry of our community.
Last year, Grace wrote thank-you notes to those who came:
Thank you for your donation to Grace Centers of Hope. Together we collected $231 and about 52 bags of stuff! When I got a tour of Grace Centers of Hope everybody there gave me a thank you. I’m glad all of you helped the poor. Thank you for being so generous.
Jacob, Julianne, Mady, and Grace
“As a family, we would never have taken on this initiative, without her idea, ambition and hard work,” her mom said. “Even very small children can make a very big difference. Many families will have a happier Christmas because of Grace.”
As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but think of the Gospel reading we had heard in church a couple hours earlier. As John the Baptist tells us, even in these difficult times, we can still share what we have with those who don’t have enough. There is no better way to welcome the Baby Jesus, our Savior, than helping others with what God has blessed us with and sharing our joy.
My son and I left Grace’s charity hot chocolate stand filled with joy; not only to have helped our neighbors in need, but also because a little girl brought us the true meaning of Christmas on a dreary, cold day in December—right at the end of her driveway.
Grace's charity drive in December, 2008
"Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God. Do all that you do with love."—St. Therese of Lisieux
Grace with a van loaded down with donations