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Michelle Turnberg, Published December 23 2011

Turnberg: Chance to help others was great Christmas gift

There are so many memories that come flooding back this time of year. Some are happy, some are sad and some forever change us.

For me that year was 1986.

I was a freshman in high school, and we were in the Twin Cities visiting my grandparents. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and their church group was going to an inner city church to serve a free meal and pass out gifts to those who might otherwise not receive any. This sounded like an adventure to a kid growing up in a town with a population of 1,500.

We took a bus to a church in north Minneapolis. I helped serve the meal and get the presents ready to pass out. A young boy, probably about 8 or 9, came up to me and asked if he could have one. He was so sweet and polite. I assured him that there was a present just for him. Then he asked if it would be OK to bring one to his little sister and brother because they were at home and their mom had to work. He had come alone.

Keep in mind this is not the nicest of neighborhoods. But this boy had walked to church by himself, so he could have a gift and make sure his brother and sister would have one, too.

Another volunteer and I walked with the boy to his family’s apartment. Inside the mother was frantically feeding the other two kids and getting ready to leave for work, while the dad just gotten home from his shift. We walked in with presents, and you would have thought I had the winning Powerball ticket.

The eyes of the smaller children grew to the size of silver dollars. They jumped and screamed and asked if the presents were for them. When we handed them over the wrapping paper flew off and that doll and train set could have just as easily been solid gold.

The mother hugged me and cried; the father shook our hands and held back his emotion. Both thanked us repeatedly and invited us to stay.

It was at the moment that I felt a wave a peace over me. I truly understood why it’s better to give than receive and that really, I was the one who received the best gift that night.

Michelle Turnberg writes a weekly column for SheSays.

She can be reached at michelleturnberg@gmail.com.