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A Teddy Bear, a note and a Christmas wish: Matt's Memo

Angel gift for Christmas Bureau in Syracuse. (Matt Mulcahy, CNYCentral)

Heaping piles of Christmas gift bags all wearing the same decorative tag of the Salvation Army spilled out along the floor. They arrived in over sized garbage bags and cardboard bins at the hollowed out shell of the former JC Penney department store at Shoppingtown Mall. Volunteers buzzed around the lengthy lines of white plastic tables. They navigated past cylinders labeled Toys for Tots with Teddy Bears overflowing.

We nicknamed our section of the massive sorting process the "Angel Department". This was the area where individual gifts were collected. They had come from church groups and schools, businesses and community centers. Generous members of our community pull a tag off an Angel Tree. It matches them with a person and a need. One example, an 18 year old girl who needs some clothing.

We spent hours opening these bags of gifts. We separated the toys from the clothing. The toys would be part of the instant toy store that is being set up for Christmas Bureau distribution next Wednesday. The clothing would go back to the Salvation Army to be matched with the children, the families in need.

Most of the sorting progressed smoothly. Once the volunteers learn their task they engage and get rolling. One gift package included a note that stopped that process.

Precise handwriting, likely of an older woman, illuminated the thought process of the person living the credo: it is better to give than receive. She explained her generous spirit which reached beyond the request of the Angel tag. The bag included a clothing item or two and a Teddy Bear. And the note.

"I know she didn't ask for PJ's, but got a good deal. Please let her keep them." She was directly addressing those of us charged with sorting the goods.

She went on to write, "Also, no matter how old, every girl loves a stuffed animal!" She paper clipped the letter to the gifts, right next to an adorable, cuddly Teddy Bear.

This letter disrupted our work flow in the best of ways. I started to separate the stuffed animal from the clothing. That was my volunteer duty. Then I read the letter. I read it once. Read it again. I couldn't break up the Teddy Bear and the PJ's.

I brought the letter, the Bear and the PJ's to my co-worker Laura Cherchio who was also stationed in our Angel Department. I pleaded with her to read the letter too. She smiled and knew where this was going. She refused. She didn't want to bear the burden of what it asked. I read it aloud. She immediately agreed with my sentiment. Laura tightened the paper clip. She tucked the note and the Teddy Bear deeply into the PJ's. We were determined to keep the set together.

Our Angel Department felt the spirit of the woman who purchased and wrapped the present with great care. She packaged it like she would for her own granddaughter. We could envision her placing it carefully under her decorated Christmas tree.

Come Wednesday, thousands of pre-registered families will arrive at the Mall to pick out toys and stocking stuffers for their children. The gifts from the Angel Trees will spread throughout Central New York. Each toy touched by so many hands to make it all possible. The lesson from that handwritten note: "no matter how old, every girl ( or boy) loves a stuffed animal."

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