I met Joy in 1974. We were both students at a private school called The Vail-Deane School for Girls – founded, like something out of an old-time movie, by a Miss Vail and a Miss Deane – which is no longer in existence. I made some really nice friends there. Joy was the best of the bunch back then, and by God, she still is now.
Joy came to New York City from Michigan on Christmas Eve. She was on the way to visit relatives but had heard of Operation Santa. Anyone else would have heard about it and just gone on to their relatives. Not Joy. She is the personification of a Christian woman with an “attitude of gratitude” and wanted to stop at the New York City Post Office Main Branch to participate in the operation.
For anyone who may not know, Operation Santa has been in existence in NYC for years. Sponsored by the post office and New York City radio station 1010 WINS, Operation Santa takes the letters that poor children write to Santa Claus with their wish list of presents, then allows kind-hearted volunteers to select a letter and answer it with gifts. Everything is done anonymously; the children’s full names are not given to the volunteers and the presents have to be sent to a recipient number, not a home address. The post office takes care of matches the recipient numbers to the children’s addresses.
Joy arrived at the post office on Christmas Eve – and was appalled at the number of letters that still had not been selected to be answered. There were literally mountains of them. She had wanted to answer one letter for one needy family – but, seeing the piles of “Dear Santa Claus” notes that were still sitting there, with no one to fulfill the wishes of the children who wrote them, she decided to take not one, not two, and not even three – instead, Joy left the post office with four Santa letters!
One was for a little five-year-old girl named Serena. One was for a mother with two daughters. The third was for a family with five children that had lost everything in Hurricane Sandy. The fourth was for a ten-year-old violinist who had but one wish: for a pitch pipe that would help make him a better violinist. It was that child’s first year in America.
I met up with Joy at JC Penney and could not believe the amount of presents she had already secured for the children. One of children was in need of a pillow for her bed. There I was with two heavy bags of presents I was planning to bring later that evening to friends and relatives in NJ, and guess what? By coincidence, or maybe a little honest-to-goodness Christmas magic, I just happened to have an extra decorative pillow, made as a fundraiser where I work, that was brought along as an “emergency present” in case someone gave one to me and I didn’t have one ready to give back to them. The “emergency present” went right onto Joy’s gift pile for the kids.
We had a crazy afternoon, running hither and yon to attempt to fulfill the kids’ wishes, but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun! The only thing Joy wasn’t able to secure was the pitch pipe for the child who was spending his first Christmas in this country, since that had to be gotten from the Sam Ash music store which was in another neighborhood and there was a time crunch. The gifts had to reach the post office by five o’clock in the afternoon. Once Joy was done with cleaning out JC Penney’s we went over to Kmart so she could get the rest of the gifts. I decided I’d buy the packing boxes since the packages to the family of five, and the one to the little girl Serena, were too many to easily fit into a small box. Joy navigated the line at Kmart, which was longer than I’d ever seen it with at least 60 people, while I secured the largest pair of boxes that UPS had to offer. They were literally as big as me (I’m five foot one). In order to get everything over to the post office after that we had to temporarily “liberate” a Kmart cart, and we were some pair going down the street, with Joy hightailing the cart past the Kmart before the guards could see us and me trying to carry my purse, which is huge to begin with, two very heavy shoulder tote bags of presents for my family, and the two gigantic packing boxes that had yet to be put together.
It was onward to the post office! Once there, I watched the cart while Joy got help from an Operation Santa Claus volunteer so that we could get all the goodies inside. Then it was time to wrap everything up and tag it for all of the kids. Joy organized everything and Operation Wrapping Paper began. Volunteers helped with the boxes.
Here comes the most amazing part of this story. Remember the child who had wanted the pitch pipe? New volunteers came in to Operation Santa Claus to pick out a letter – and Joy got one of them to take it! That little boy’s going to get his pitch pipe after all. Joy saw to it.
This is the season for random acts of kindness and decency, but I have yet to see a finer example of putting the concept into action than Joy. Yet you know that saying, “No good deed goes unpunished?” Joy went to get some additional packing supplies in the post office store and all of a sudden her card wouldn’t work. She tried swiping it three times. That somehow made matters worse. It put a “stop” on the card. The card company thought something was wrong and automatically canceled all action. Calling them didn’t work. She got lost in voicemail first, then found out everyone was gone early for the day at the card company – after all, it was Christmas Eve.
After waiting for half an hour to mail out the parcels for the kids, the card situation still wasn’t sorted out once we finally made it to the post office window. Fortunately Joy and I both had some extra cash handy and that took care of part of the postage for the children’s packages. Nine children, counting the one who wanted the pitch pipe, will get their Christmas wishes this year – all thanks to Joy. I was so happy to be a small part of this beautiful endeavor. The Vail-Deane School for Girls may no longer exist, but the friendships made there remain nice and strong, and I think Joy and I are easily the best pair of friends that our old school ever produced!