Thieves Can't Steal Spirit of Giving This Christmas
A burglary casts a writer outside his comfort zone to help needy kids for the holiday.
Thieves almost ruined Christmas this year for some 200 children and their families in South Los Angeles.
“You won’t believe that someone broke into my garage and stole big bags of toys,” exclaimed my incredulous cousin Makeda Murray, founder of An Open Door, a nonprofit that has been organizing Jingle Bash, a toy distribution drive for kids and families in need, for the past 10 years.
I couldn’t believe it either. We’d always put the toys in Makeda's home garage, never thinking that someone would case the place or have no qualms about stealing from the 200 children and their families we were expected to serve.
But with only 48 hours until the event that's held a few days before Christmas, there was no time to be upset and no chance we’d cancel. There was a 3-year-old out there who needed to be able to pick out a baby doll from a sea of toys on display in our annual "toy store." We needed those toys replaced, by any means necessary.
Jingle Bash is an effort that, through the kindness of countless organizations and my cousin's impeccable leadership abilities, rewards an ever-expanding family of disadvantaged youth who strive to break a generations-old cycle of poverty. So, as this toy crisis loomed, I found myself being called upon to use the ability I'd been given as a journalist to help give these youth a voice this year.
As one of the many multi-tasking volunteers of An Open Door, I had never needed to play the role of spokesperson before. Yikes!
I hate seeing myself on television.
I mean I really dislike it. Contrary to what many would think typical of a journalist in an age when appearing in front of cameras is a web-traffic-driving, brand-building must, I can’t stand watching myself speak. But I had to set aside such discomfort. None of that matters when there are children in danger of being without a toy, without an outward expression of love, on Christmas.
The burglary presented an opportunity for us to come through for the kids like we'd never come through before.
After filing a report with police, we immediately released a media alert explaining that we’d been robbed. (I’d circulated a press release to news outlets a week earlier announcing the Los Angeles Laker Girls would appear at this year’s event, but had gotten no response.) Now, only hours after sending out the burglary alert, I was receiving calls from the Los Angeles Times, the local CBS and NBC stations, The David Cruz Show on KTLK AM1150, and even The New York Daily News.
Here’s one interview:
I wish I didn’t use my hands as much. I wish I didn’t make goofy faces. But I'm so glad that I decided to step up to the plate when it was needed.
The publicity worked. We began receiving monetary and toy donations from people in and out of the L.A. area; truly amazing in a year when An Open Door had struggled to get the donations it received before the burglary.
But a Los Angeles Police Department volunteer called and brought 60 popular board games to the venue. Others brought by toys and gifts well after the start of the event on Saturday. And the California Highway Patrol, which had given the toys that were stolen, replaced the bags. Local CBS station reporter Juan Fernandez delivered the replacements, featuring us on the 10 p.m. news that evening.
We had definitely recovered and exceeded the amount needed to meet the need. But I can’t neglect mentioning what drove some of the attention. My cousin, Makeda, a very determined and God-fearing woman, let the toy thieves know just how she felt about the burglary.
“Attn: Thieves!!! God is watching you & so am I…” read the sign she displayed on her garage door the night the burglary was discovered. “Know that you reap what you sow! Repent & return my stuff! Shame on you; those items were going to the needy!!! May God have mercy on your souls.”
We made the photograph of the sign available to any news station that wanted to run it with stories publicizing our call for donations. And on the day of the event, an exhausted Makeda pulled it together and gave a great interview:
An Open Door’s Jingle Bash is only possible because other entities bless us to provide this very needed service. I’ve learned that not even one’s own somewhat irrational insecurities should stop a person from doing what’s needed, when it’s needed and for the people who need it.