Posted May 30, 2013 in MH Combermere ON:
Gifts from Strangers

by Brenda Read.

In the early days of Madonna House and into the ‘70s, one major work of St. Joseph’s House was selecting, preparing, gift-wrapping, and distributing Christmas gifts for people in the area who would otherwise not have had any. The following letter, which we received in 2002, is printed with permission of the writer.

To the staff and volunteers at Madonna House:

My name is Brenda Read—my maiden name is "Best"—and I grew up in a town quite close to Combermere. The reason I am writing to you is to send a donation along with my many heartfelt thanks.

I grew up with eight sisters and brothers, and we were very poor. My father had chronic back pain and never held down a job for very long, and he also had a severe drinking problem.

There were many times when he wasn’t around, and my mother struggled to keep us fed and clothed. She was an incredible woman who never drank herself and who worked far harder than any woman should ever have to.

We didn’t have indoor plumbing, and she washed clothes with an old wringer washer, and twice a week she baked bread in the wood stove—lots of bread.

But I’m not writing this to complain. I am now 48 years old, and I have a good life, as do all of my brothers and sisters. (We lost a brother and sister in car accidents, and that leaves seven of us.)

Most of us live in Trenton, Ontario, and they are all wonderful adults and have successful businesses, as I do.

I married a local man, an accountant, and we have two beautiful daughters. One lives in Toronto and is a lawyer, and the other lives close by and works at the Sears call center.

My brother Tony and I often get together and talk about the hard life we had as children and about how lonely and insecure we often felt. And then we count our blessings, and we remember the boxes that would come to our house—delivered by strangers—right around Christmastime.

We all knew what was in the boxes, but we weren’t allowed to touch anything. Not until Christmas morning, when we would all run out and there under the tree were our very own packages—prepared by strangers with our age and sex in mind.

They always had our name on each bundle. We never received gifts from anyone—not even on our birthdays—so a package under the Christmas tree with our name on it—especially for me…. You have no idea what a wonderful gift that was for all of us.

I left home when I was about seventeen, and when I started working, I made sure that my brothers and sisters had lots of new things each time Christmas rolled around.

And one by one, they all left home and eventually we all, including Mom and Dad, came to live in Trenton where our home has been for the last 25 years.

I should tell you that my dad hasn’t drunk in about twenty years, and he is truly a wonderful man and a definite highlight in my life. He is now 74. My Mom has some health problems, but she is still here with us all, and she is 68.

None of us has ever forgotten where we came from, and we certainly have never forgotten the kindness of the people from Madonna House who made our Christmases so special. You were like angels come to bring a huge amount of happiness to nine very poor kids, who wouldn’t have had any gifts at all if it hadn’t been for you.

And I would like to add that your generosity has had a profound influence on me. Now I, too, try very hard to be generous. My husband and I give to many charities, and we support a little girl in Zimbabwe through World Vision. We have also been involved in the toy drive here in Trenton for about twelve years.

Most importantly, though, is that I have managed to pass these traits on to my daughters, and they, too, are living their lives with loving and giving natures. So your goodness and generosity continue to grow through our family—just like little seeds.

I hope you will read this letter and know that it is so full of love and gratitude. And I shall never forget you.

From Restoration December 2002


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