If it’s Wednesday … wait … hold on … IT’S WEDNESDAY ALREADY??? No, it can’t be … only … 1 … 2 … 3 more days ‘til Christmas??? Where has the week gone? Where has December gone? For that matter, where has the YEAR gone??? 😱
Now, as I was saying … if it’s Wednesday, it must be time to set aside the angst, the characters that bring about mounds of snark and rants and turn instead to some good people. Turns out, I found a couple without even looking and I think they will help us all to remember what the spirit of the season really is.
Turquoise LeJeune Parker is a library teacher at Lakewood Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina. Ms. Parker ends every class by telling each of her students she loves them, and it isn’t just words … she shows them in so many ways.
“I wanted to be a teacher all my life. This is what I love, it’s all I ever wanted to do, I am living my dream. I call my students Mrs. Parker’s professors. If that tells you anything, it’s that I believe in them and I love them so very much. I need them to know that I love them, to remind them that love is an action word. I will tell them all day, but I will also show them all day.”
Fully 17% of the people in Durham live below the poverty level, and more than 22% of Black families in Durham live below the poverty level. Given that Durham is comprised of 25% Black people, the poverty rate is significant and winter break can mean weeks of food insecurity for children and their families. In 2015, and every year since, Ms. Parker took the bull by the horns and decided to make sure the people of her community had enough to eat.
This year especially, Ms. Parker was worried that in this, the second year of the pandemic, students and their families might not have enough to eat, so she went the extra mile with her fundraiser called Mrs. Parker’s Professors Foodraiser.
A parent told Ms. Parker, “I’ll be okay, I can go without eating, but I can’t let my kids go without eating for two weeks.”
Says Parker … “It’s really hard to know they have stuff like this going on and not to do everything I can. My husband and I started thinking, if one family is asking this question, then there must be more. It’s a basic human right. We’re not talking about raising money to buy people a vacation; this is food, a very, very basic thing. We need to make sure we take care of our schools, because when we take care of our schools, we’re taking care of our community.”
She first started the project in 2015, asking if anyone would be interested in donating money, so she could provide bags full of food to last them for the whole holiday break. Progress was slow but steady. The first year, she raised $500. Last year, she reached $55,000. But this year proved to be a record, with more than $106,000 donated from people all over the country.
“It has left me speechless. I’ve cried about it a little every day. It took off in a way we could have never expected. This is a community effort. This is not $106,000 out of my pocket, this is the result of us operating as a collective. It’s because of all the people who gave their time, their money, their talents to make sure our kids are taken care of.”
With the help of more than 60 volunteers who accompanied Parker to a local Costco, the group purchased the food and spent days packing the bags before delivering them to each school by December 11. The fundraiser’s success has inspired Parker to make it a lifelong project, she said, with an aim to feed as many children as possible during both winter and spring breaks.
Two thumbs up to this wonderful, inspiring teacher!!! 👍🏼 👍🏾 We need more like her!
Kim Morton had suffered from depression and anxiety for most of her life, but last year was even worse than usual, for a dear friend had died, and with the pandemic she was unable to see any of her family. Her depression had become so deep that she was suffering from frequent panic attacks. Then last November, her across-the-street neighbor, Matt Riggs, sent her a text message one evening telling her to look outside.
Matt had hung a string of white Christmas lights, stretching from his home to hers in the Rodgers Forge neighborhood, just north of the Baltimore city line. He also left a tin of homemade cookies on her doorstep. The lights, he told her, were meant to reinforce that they were always connected despite their pandemic isolation.
“I was reaching out to Kim to literally brighten her world.”
Well, folks, that in itself would be enough for a good people snippet, but the story gets even better.
Matt did not expect that his one strand of Christmas lights would somehow spark a neighborhood-wide movement, but that is exactly what happened. In the days that followed Riggs’s light-hanging gesture, neighbor after neighbor followed suit, stretching lines of Christmas lights from one side of the street to the other.
Says Leabe Commisso, who lives on the other end of the block … “I said to my neighbor: ‘Let’s do it, too,’ Before we knew it, we were cleaning out Home Depot of all the lights.”
Morton and Riggs were stunned to see neighbors with drills and ladders, up on their rooftops and tangled in trees — doing whatever they had to do to hang the lights horizontally. They were mostly masked and at a distance, but for the first time in a long time, a feeling of togetherness — and light — had returned.
“What blows my mind is that it was all organic. It just happened. There was no planning. It just grew out of everybody’s desire for beauty and joy and connection. From such a humble beginning, a tiny little act, it became this event … it turns out, we all needed this.”
Melissa DiMuzio, who lives on the same block with her wife and two children, was due for a pick-me-up.
“It was a tough time. We were all struggling in our own way. I really wanted to participate.”
DiMuzio took her contribution a step further. She decided that, on her string of lights, she would include a fitting message: “Love lives here.”
“I’m a go-big-or-go-home kind of person. I stayed up all night bending dry cleaning coat hangers. It was crazy, but it worked.”
The collective display resonated so deeply that the neighborhood agreed to do it again this year — and every year to come, pandemic or otherwise. On November 21st this year, Rodgers Forge residents hung their lights together. To emphasize their commitment to the project, and ease the process going forward, neighbors drilled anchors into the brick of their homes and attached the light strands to metal cable wires to make them more secure. They also added more signs to go along with the original “love lives here” motto, including one that says “dream” and another that says “believe.”
This, my friends, is the spirit of the holiday, the spirit of community, of sharing and of caring.
I actually had a third ‘good people’ to share, but I find I’ve been a bit wordy here, so I will save them for next week! Meanwhile, I’d like to finish with a fun post from our friend Clive, who is also a ‘good people’!