I had the privilege of being introduced to the Variety Club several years ago as a volunteer at the annual Christmas lunch for the physically and mentally challenged kids of Vancouver. A simple lunch was served and entertainment was provided, including costumed dancers, theatrical singers, some very talented Elves (dressed in colourful 'Elfen' outfits) - and of course, Santa himself. There was no big advertising binge to announce it and in fact it was occurring at the same time as 'Timmy's Christmas Telethon' that was being held in some downtown television studio. Yet the hall was packed.
This lunch was held at the Seaforth Armory in Kitsilano - not a very glamorous setting but very efficient and very appreciated. Lunch was one hot dog, one juice box, one bag of chips, a couple of cookies and a few orange quarters. The kids loved it. They were brought by their parents or by Variety Club buses from various homes and institutions around Vancouver. The parents came with the understanding that parents did not always get a lunch (supplies are limited by the greatly appreciated funds received from people and the food donated by certain special charitable grocery chains). They still enjoyed themselves and the show.
The volunteers, of which I was a mere neophyte, set up tables, picked up donated food and supplies, served the simple food to the 'ravenous hordes' (eg. little boy: "Thank you for the hot dog, but I am allergic to mustard - could you give me a plain one..... maybe with a bit of ketchup?"; or little girl: "I am a vegetarian, could you give me a hot dog without any meat?"). They used heavy, overloaded plastic bins to deliver the food over the heads of the scrambling children, demanding parents and concerned, polite families (many of which could not speak English) and then they had to politely explain to the kids why they were only allowed one hot dog ("... if there are any left over I will bring one to you...").
They did this with the grace of a dancer, the strength of a weight lifter and the flair of a diplomat conducting difficult negotiations of state. And they all had a lot of 'heart'. If they were lucky, a few parents would say a special thanks to them and a few children would give a smile when they were delivered their drink and hot dog.
These volunteers were a pretty special ‘crowd’. As one of the tireless 'hot dog carriers' I met kids living with a variety of different situations - some in wheel chairs, many with minds that just were not working as well as society demands. One brief meeting that stayed with me was my encounter with 'Mary' (no, that’s not her real name).
Mary was a woman in her late 20's with a crumpled looking body wearing a wrinkled blue pattern dress. As I passed by her on one of my hot dog 'runs' to feed the crowd, she stopped me with an earnest look in her face, asking me why she was not allowed to go up to see Santa and maybe get a gift. I was startled as the visit with Santa was really just for the children. Then I really looked into Mary's eyes - and saw just another ten year old little girl looking out at me. I had no answer for Mary, I am ashamed to say. No system is perfect and even more likely, this first time Variety Club helper just found himself a little out of his depth.
I left Mary, with the body of a woman and the soul of a child, with no proper answer as there was nothing I could do. But perhaps there is something that you can do… This Christmas, do something special for someone else. Nothing big – j
ust ask two of your friends to put together a little something and deliver it to the Variety Club. Or maybe call up and volunteer a few hours of your time as a Volunteer for their Christmas ‘party’ or some other function. And tell your friends about Mary - ask them if they would want to see 'Santa Claus' if they were in her situation. I know I would. At the very least you could say you did something - a lot more than I was able to do for ‘Mary’ on that very special day