My story starts with my parents; growing up we were far from wealthy, but no matter how tough times were, my parents always made sure that they did whatever they could to make Christmas special. Those are memories that have lasted a lifetime for me. It is my mom, above all, that showed me the importance of giving and helping others. After my parents’ divorce, my mom worked hard to support us.
During the holidays, if there was a family in the neighborhood who was going through tough times, my mom would shop for weeks to put together a large basket of toys and stockings to give to the parents for the kids, as well as groceries so they could cook a nice meal for Christmas. As a young child, I didn’t understand why she would work so hard just to literally give it all away. It took me years of growing up to even begin to understand what and why she was doing it. I cannot even begin to guess how many kids in our neighborhood she helped over the years that never knew who their Santa was.
As I got older, I would start to help her in shopping for toys and candy for all the stockings. As the years went on, I got creative in my own way. One year I refurbished a used basketball hoop and left it on my neighbor’s driveway on Christmas morning with a large red bow because I saw their kids playing basketball with a bucket as a hoop for months. Another year when I got my first Christmas bonus, I remembered what my mom did and decided to use a portion to give to others as my mom always did. I wanted to help more kids and, in researching organizations, ‘Toys for Tots’ became an obvious choice to support. For years, I purchased toys and donated them, but it wasn’t until I met my wife that things started to truly grow.
Almost 9 years ago, I went on my first date with my wife. I knew before our first date she was the woman I wanted to marry. When I finally convinced her to go on a date with me, I was beyond nervous. She suggested we meet for coffee at a Starbucks. I arrived pretty early and nervously waited for her. While waiting I spontaneously decided that this was not how I wanted our first date to be. As she arrived, I very nervously told her that I had another idea for our first date if she didn’t mind. She agreed to trust me, and I drove us a couple of miles away and pulled into the parking lot of Target. She had a confused look on her face as we got out of the car and started walking towards the entrance. As we walked, I told her the story of Christmas at my house and its importance and said, ” I have always known what to buy for boys but have to admit when it comes to girls’ toys, I know nothing. So, would you help me pick out some toys to donate?” We each grabbed a cart and spent the next hour or so shopping for toys and filling our carts as we were talking about our own Christmas memories and being big kids playing with the toys as we picked them out.
I am fortunate that we have spent 8 more Christmas together and each year this tradition has grown. She has fully embraced my little family tradition helping it grow and keeps motivating me even when times are tough. When it came time to plan our wedding there were hundreds of decisions to make but I only had one question. While we were wedding planning one day, I asked her, “Babe, I don’t know how you will take this, but would you go to Target with me in your wedding dress?” She immediately answered “Yes”, and I knew exactly what I had in mind. Our relationship has been amazing, and since it started with giving to ‘Toys for Tots’ I couldn’t think of a better way to start our marriage. On our wedding day, directly after the wedding ceremony, I gave a speech explaining our first date to all our friends and family. We then handed out gift cards to everyone to make sure everyone could take part in our tradition. My wife, all our wedding guests, and I went to Target just like we did together on our first date and had a blast shopping for Toys for Tots at Target.
Earlier on the day of our wedding, I got calls from some local stations that wanted to film it and never really thought it would go anywhere. But the weekend of our wedding it went viral nationally. It was on CNN, FOX, Inside edition, NBC Nightly News and almost every other news source you could imagine. It was beyond overwhelming and in the end, we hope that we helped inspire others to give.