THIS is what an op-ed writer can produce, so forgive me for beating up on Maureen Dowd, it's not her fault that the New York Times grants her the position as a twice-weekly opinion writer in the so-called "paper of record."
I haven't stopped weeping yet from reading this story. I KNOW this story. I've known this story.
Lord, forgive me for taking cheap petty shots at the powerful who simply know no better.
When Ken Deever was a child, his grandfather would hit up the junkyard as Christmas approached. "Half our Christmas was from there," Deever, now 57, recalls. As other kids returned to school showing off shiny new thises and thats, Ken might have a retooled bicycle from someone's trash.
Those deprivations and embarrassments of poverty went along with having no running water until sixth grade and being forced out of his Des Moines home every spring because of flooding. But there's another side of poverty you may need to have lived to understand: having nothing to give those you love.
Deever is flush now. His company, Deever Roofing, which he started out of high school, has been so successful that five years ago he launched his own foundation. But he hasn't forgotten being poor. So he plays Santa a lot. Last week, he took all 166 students at Mitchellville Elementary School in Southeast Polk on a shopping spree. Each got a $50 gift card - and a personal shopper from two teams of volunteers - to buy presents for family members.
School-sponsored field trips are a thing of the past at Mitchellville. And if school budgets are stressed, home ones are more so. When principal Joseph Nelson asked students how many were able to get gifts for their families, not a single hand went up.
So each was told to make up a list. After breakfast one day last week, a row of school buses Deever chartered pulled up to take the kids and helpers to Walmart. He had enlisted 60 volunteers from companies such as Principal, Wells-Fargo and Nationwide. The school had gotten 50 from the community - pastors, bank and postal workers, a former principal, the school board president and members of a senior lunch group. Deever fed them all first.
"This is where it gets heart wrenching," says Nelson. The kids didn't just pick out indulgences. Several bought food for a Christmas meal. One bought a set of dishes because there were none at home. One bought work boots for his dad, an unemployed construction worker. One bought a 2-foot artificial Christmas tree. The family had never had one.
Deever began sponsoring these shopping sprees in 1994, choosing those Des Moines schools with the greatest percentage of kids qualifying for free or reduced price meals. This year he expanded beyond Des Moines, but also pitched in for other events at Cowles Elementary School, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Young Women's Resource Center and the Fort Des Moines Museum.
The foundation kicked in about $16,000 of the $20,000 raised from a charity golf tournament.
Deever says he wants to teach that it's better to give than to receive. But when the Mitchellville kids got back to school, each also received a gift package - including a board game Deever created called Rooftopopoly, where giving is the object.
No single act of charity, no matter how generous, can reach every family that could use it. Kids who can't afford to buy for their families must be reminded of the many ways they can still give creative gifts of their time, talents and thoughtfulness.
At the same time, the kid who didn't know a Santa Claus wants others to believe in one. When he and his wife, Esta, dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus, it's uncanny how they look the part. And this is what he told his granddaughter, whom he and Esta raised, when she came home from school tearful because kids said there's no Santa: There isn't just one; there are many. "You don't know when your Santa is going to be out there for you."
Deever is creating more every year. He gets letters from kids saying, "When I grow up, I want to be just like you."