It was one of those unusually cold days we get here a couple times each winter. It could not have been more than 45 degrees out. The parking lot was wet from an earlier rain and I felt tired as I pushed my shopping cart back to my car. Two weeks before Christmas and I had been running around insanely, trying to get everything done. As I lugged the last bag into the trunk and shut the hatchback I heard a voice and looked behind me. A woman was there. "Excuse me, could you spare a little? I need to get my children some Cheerios."
Where I live, such requests are not uncommon. Southern California is a meca for the homeless, especially in winter. 30-40 degrees is a lot more desireable than -10 and snow. But something inside me told me that this woman was being honest. That she was not just looking for money to get drunk or high.
She saw me paused and added, "My husband is a painter, but it is hard to get work at the holidays. We have two boys, 5 and 7." I nodded. "Let's go inside, I will buy it for you."
I really only intended to get the Cherrios, but as we walked in I realized I couldn't leave it at that. I took a cart and began to go down the isles, "Let's get you a few other things..." She began to protest, but gave up when she realized it was pointless. "Do you have a freezer?" "Yes" she answered.
The cart began to fill with staples..bread, butter, lunch meats, peanut butter and even ice cream as a treat. Then I realized she probably had nothing for Christmas dinner. I added a turkey and trimmings, and so it went on.
As I went to the check out I felt a knot of fear in my stomach, it was a lot of food and we were very tight on cash, often paying bills late as we tried to juggle expenses. I looked from the woman to the cart, and I knew I needed to do this. So I put the things on the conveyor belt, figuring I would just have to pay a few more bills late. The total was over $200! Oh god, that knot grew, but I paid it. There was enough money in the bank to cover it.
She thanked me over and over and I smiled and told her to have a good Christmas before I got back into my car and drove home.
My husband helped me bring in the groceries and then I looked over the mail that had arrived while I was gone. There was a Christmas card from my grandma. I opened it up and found $200 inside.
Things have a way of working out.