Sometimes, just sometimes, you want to do something for several reasons, but without knowing exactly the most important reason. This is the way I felt about spending our Christmas Eve with HomeTown Heroes.
What exactly were they doing? HomeTown Heroes has several families they “watch over”. These families have children that have been affected by cancer. Yes – children. Cancer is a horrible disease no matter how you look at it, but when you see children, innocent faces that have barely had a chance to experience life, afflicted by this horrifying disease, you have to question the “fairness” of life itself. But instead of focusing on the injustice of this disease, HomeTown Heroes focuses on making life special for these families through out the year, with the final event happening on Christmas Eve. The final event is a Shopping Spree at Walmart for the HomeTown Heroes families.
I was lucky enough to attend this event with my own family. The Walmart in Monroe, NC was closed and all of the Hometown Hero volunteers and families gathered together. The families were each given money to do their own Christmas Shopping. In many cases, this is the only Christmas these families were going to get.
When we walked up, we were greeted by Donny, the founder of HomeTown Heroes, and Forrest, another HomeTown Hero Big Kid. We were treated like family. I also met Stacy (Forrests’ wife) who I am thinking is someone who can pull some strings. Strong, yet gentle. These are the type of people who you want on your side when fighting against something invisible.
In the Garden Center everyone gathered before the shopping took place. As I looked around I could identify each child who had or was fighting cancer because they were wearing red shirts with the Hometown Heroes logo on it. And to be honest, I had a hard time not crying. Children of all ages were wearing those shirts – from toddlers to teenagers. But you know what? None of them were crying. They all had smiles on their faces. Their parents and siblings were all glowing. They knew they were in a place full of love. They were in a place surrounded by people who cared about them, surrounded by friends, family, and volunteers who all wanted to see them happy. So instead of crying, I also smiled. I smiled because I was able to watch this beautiful exchange take place.
After listening to a speech given by Donny, the families were let loose into Walmart to spend their money. And oh boy! What a site that was. You know the saying “like a kid in a candy shop”? Well, that saying doesn’t hold a candle to the joy in these kids eyes as they walked down each aisle picking out toys for Christmas.
But it was more than that. Down each aisle you could see police and sheriffs talking to the families. You could see the HomeTown Heroes volunteers walking kids through the aisles. Everyone was smiling and having a good time. Some kids had wheelchair races. Some kids were riding scooters. And some played catch in the aisles. (SHHHHHH!!! You did not hear this from me!)
But you also saw a Mom holding her childs hand walking through the aisles. That Mommy wanted to make tonight special for her child. What must she be thinking? What must go on in her mind on a daily basis? Does she worry every day? Does she break down and cry sometimes? I don’t know. But tonight, she was a Mommy shopping with her child. And that did make me cry.
Reece and Betsy, my kids, know about cancer. We have a family member afflicted by cancer now. But they did not realize it could affect kids their age. When they saw how many kids were affected, I think they were taken aback a little. I tried to explain to them that these kids were just like them. They were no different except they had some genes inside of them that were making them sick. They like to play. They like to draw. They are just kids.
The next thing I know, Mel and Reece are playing catch in the aisle with Brantley. A sweet, polite boy who has been affected by cancer. I never would have known except he was wearing a red HomeTown Heroes shirt. That kid…now he can catch a football let me tell you. When he plays football at school, he plays wide receiver and you could tell. He was also really good at stripping the ball from Reece too! Reece and Brantley became fast friends and I am so glad about that. They were laughing and smiling the whole time. Then, Michaela (sp?), Brantleys firecracker sister, came out of nowhere to play. Now that girl can play football!
It was a great time being able to play with these kids, see them smiling, and being able to witness such a special event. I cannot wait to see what 2011 brings for HomeTown Heroes and their families. And I am glad I am able to be a part of it.