Devoted parents will do anything for their kids.
I thought about this a lot last week as I helped with a back-to-school community event.
On a Saturday morning right before school started, volunteers gathered at a church building to distribute school supplies to children who needed them.
The gathering was the culmination of months of work for a veritable army of volunteers.
Through the serving window of the church kitchen, they passed out donated school boxes filled with crayons, pencils, erasers and glue sticks.
In the gym, hairdressers gave children fresh haircuts and volunteers held a drawing for new backpacks.
In other rooms, there were tables of gently used children’s shoes and clothing, free to anyone who could use it.
Outside near some trees, a photographer was snapping portraits for children and families who wanted pictures emailed to them at no cost.
Volunteers dressed up as movie characters mingled with the crowd, high-fiving kids and posing for pictures.
The event was scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
By 8:30 a.m., there was already a line of families stretching around the building and down the street. Children were playing in the grass, babies snoozing in strollers, and parents and grandparents — many of whom had walked a long way with children in tow — chatting with each other while tending the kids.
Everyone was friendly, but there was an undercurrent of urgency. Every adult there was hoping for good things for their kids, feeling the discomfort of an overstretched budget, and wondering if maybe, just maybe, this event could possibly ease some stress and allow for a happy start to a new school year.
When things got started, I found myself needed in the young children’s clothing room. Initially, I was stationed there to help direct folks to restrooms and any resources they might not have found. After a few minutes, I saw an additional pressing need and joyfully appointed myself “Baby Holder-in-Chief.”
While moms sorted through our piles of available children’s clothes, I followed them with their babies on my hip, freeing up their hands to find the correct sizes.
Once, when I left to grab a bag for a mother to carry home her items, I wove through the crowd with her round, bright-eyed baby in my arms. You’d have thought I was escorting a celebrity, the way people clapped and squealed when we came through. Everyone was glad to see this cheery baby, and he indulged us all with gummy grins.
This is when it hit me: A “people before things” philosophy knows no demographic. People genuinely needed things, but they still celebrated the presence of this little person. Many of the folks I met that day regularly make hard choices, trying to decide which of groceries, housing or medical care is the most pressing need — because having it all just isn’t possible.
Maybe life plans have gone awry and they’re trying to regroup, and maybe they’re simply trying to create some stability where none has been. I met many grandparents raising grandchildren, and families with children in foster care situations.
Everyone was doing their best, showing grit when life was, well, gritty. And everyone who showed up wanted nothing more than kids to feel supported and well-cared-for.
If we all feel so intensely towards our own children, and even the children of strangers, I can barely fathom how our Heavenly Parents must feel towards each of us.
No wonder giving and receiving service is a cornerstone of gospel living, and no wonder “when we’re helping we’re happy,” as the Primary song goes. No wonder Christ asks us to forgive each other, help each other and minister to everyone we meet.
Devoted parents will do anything for their kids — even put them in each other’s lives to love and serve each other.