When giving is the best gift of all

Susan Pierce of Chattanooga, Tenn., will never forget the Christmas her son Russ wanted a television set. "He said all his friends had a TV in their bedrooms. It even got to the point that he was circling TVs in ads and leaving them on the kitchen table," she recalls.

To help change his attitude, Ms. Pierce decided they would take part in the Santa Train, a volunteer effort by police, fire-department employees, and school- patrol personnel.

The "train" is actually a convoy of emergency vehicles including a fire engine, as well as private cars. At each house, they deliver a boxload of toys and another of food.

When Russ and his mom took part, the vehicles made one stop that neither will forget. "There weren't any lights on," she remembers, "so I thought no one was home." Instead, the house had no electricity and no heat. "The kids were in summer clothes and slept on pallets on the floor. When we left that house, Russ turned to me and said, 'It's OK if I don't get a TV for Christmas.' "

He wasn't the only one who learned a lesson. "We both had our perspectives changed," Pierce says. "He learned he was pretty fortunate. And I had been skeptical of how bad the need was." Surely, she thought, welfare and social services met the basic needs of most families.

Now she knew differently.

Last year 3,000 Chattanooga kids were given free toys courtesy of the Forgotten Child Fund; 10 of those families had memorable visits from the Santa Train.

The weathered cliche that giving is better than receiving becomes more even more poignant when it's actually acted on.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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