By Shailee Modi (Class of 2021)
As the year winds down and the days become filled with twinkling lights and candy canes, it can be easy to get caught up in holiday celebrations with friends and family. After a semester of virtual schooling in the midst of a global pandemic, it can be even easier to breathe a sigh of relief and binge a few seasons of a Netflix series while munching on the wall of a gingerbread house.
As Bonners, we spend so many hours during the school year working tirelessly on our respective service projects. Challenges come up, and it is our responsibility to rise to the occasion each time to ensure that our service is as impactful as can be under present circumstances. While it is natural to approach winter break as a necessary respite, participating in some form of service during the holidays can help us embrace the spirit of giving, reconnect with our communities, and reflect on why we do service in the first place.
In my search for service needs in my community, I stumbled across the Fort Bend Santa’s Exchange/Toys for Tots program. Toys for Tots started in 1947 and is still run by the Marine Corps Reserve today to provide toys to children whose parents cannot afford gifts for Christmas. These new and unopened gifts are collected through toy donation drives with local exchange and rotary clubs organizing the necessary details. Since its inception, Toys for Tots has distributed 584 million toys and supported 265 million children. In 2019, Fort Bend County Toys for Tots was able to support 7200 children and distribute over 30,000 gifts.
The past few years, my brother and I have taken some time to volunteer at the Fort Bend Santa’s Exchange holiday event. On a Saturday before Christmas, volunteer shifts run all day in three to six hour intervals. Volunteers can sign up to check in families, take care of young children in the makeshift daycare, or help parents pick out gifts for their kids. It’s an incredible experience to be surrounded by volunteers of all ages; students, adults, and even entire families come to help out where they can. Tables of gifts are arranged all over an auditorium, organized by type and age. I had the chance to be an “Elf,” guiding parents around the tables so that they could pick out toys for their children and then walking with them to their cars. These interactions helped me put a face to the people we were serving; by the end of the time I spent picking gifts with a single mom, I knew which of her kids loved sports or board games or had never owned a bike before. Getting to know these details and seeing the love the parents have for their children always makes this form of service particularly fulfilling during the holidays.
Participating in this Santa’s Exchange event every year reminds me to reflect and to remember that inequalities do not disappear over the holidays; if anything, they become even greater. In what is meant to be one of the most joyful and restful times of the year, there is a child out there wondering why her gift has not come, or a parent struggling to put a holiday dinner on the table. While the Santa Exchange event might not be the most available form of service in 2020, with food bank lines reaching record lengths due to COVID, it is more important than ever that we as Bonners do not forget to give what we can this winter break. Whether you volunteer at the Houston Food Bank, donate to a Toys for Tots drive, or deliver Meals on Wheels, take the opportunity to reach out and help your local community. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
Sign up to volunteer at the Houston Food Bank