Our City: ‘Brother Tom, what about December 26th?’
by Tom Rowland
Dec 19, 2013 | 654 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(Mayor’s Note: In December 2011, I ran a column that I have been asked to run again simply because it is a reminder that the giving spirit is alive and well in Cleveland. We are indeed “The City With Spirit” all year long. Here’s an updated reprint of that column that rings true today, just as it did 63 years ago when my friend, the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield, began his communitywide Christmas Party for Children.)

Each and every Christmas season, I hear the same words echoing in my head, “Brother Tom, what about December 26th?”

Those words were uttered to me years ago by the late Rev. M.E. Littlefield, who spent 365 days a year, for over half a century, making Christmas a yearlong project for people in need.

This season has been busy. There are so many organizations doing great works. It’s festive. There’s shopping, luncheons, dinners, fellowship — and helping others in difficult times.

But on Wednesday, Dec. 25, the gifts will be opened, and at day’s end we begin thinking about the New Year that is just days away.

The Rev. Littlefield once reminded me that people have needs all year long, not just at Christmas. And he was so right.

This community is a shining star among many. Each year, we see more than 1,000 kids shop during Christmas Memories. They buy clothes, toys and it’s a happy and exciting time for those involved. Hundreds and hundreds of volunteers take part, through the inspiration and leadership of Brenda Lawson and her Christmas Memories Foundation.

The Empty Stocking Fund through Mix 104.1, raises funds, administered through Faith Memorial Church, founded by the late Rev. M.E. and Gladys Littlefield. A communitywide party is held and almost 1,000 children are assisted by volunteers to pick out toys and coats.

The William Hall Rodgers Basket Fund delivers food staples to some 1,100 families in this community providing groceries and food — with funds raised through the Cleveland Daily Banner each year. The Basket Fund is now an established 501(c)(3) organization that is coordinated through the work of dedicated volunteers. The Banner partners with this cause annually as a support to Cleveland and Bradley County families, and also as a tribute to the program’s namesake. William Hall Rodgers was a Banner editor who died from complications of polio.

Our Cleveland Police Department officers host “Shop with a Cop,” the Elks Lodge hosts a Children’s Christmas Party and The Refuge, a growing nonprofit whose outreach targets families in our city’s eastern and southeastern neighborhoods, works to host a Christmas gathering for some 500 families every years. Our churches work individually, and sometimes as partners, to provide an outreach to those in need with food and gifts.

There are many, many, many more people and organizations who take this time of year to spread Christmas blessings.

I truly enjoy taking part in many of these events. But every year at this time, the Rev. Littlefield’s words ring in my head, “Brother Tom, this is wonderful. But what about December 26th?”

My wife, Sandra, shops with youngsters in a couple of these programs each year. She has often followed up with families she has met, when she sees a need. I recall one year, she and her friend Debbie Layne, packed their cars full to make sure one family had a Christmas tree and decorations — the family of five children had never had a tree in their home. She realized this while shopping in Christmas Memories and one little boy wanted to purchase ornaments. When she inquired, he said they had never had a tree in their home and all his friends at school had trees. After talking with his mother, Sandra and Debbie made sure when the kids arrived home after school one day, there was a tree and decorations waiting, so the family could decorate it together. Later, she checked on them to make certain the wife found a job — and worked to make sure some other needs were met during the year.

When she showed up a couple of times, a neighbor came forward. She shared a little about the family and pitched in to help keep some surprise things in her home (i.e., a bike and computer table) until Christmas morning, when she would put them outside their door. The neighbor was so glad someone knew about this family’s day-to-day needs. And then others came forward … it just took one little boy searching for a bright ornament during Christmas Memories.

There are so many stories like this. And it’s much like the story of the little boy throwing starfish into the ocean so they would not die. His mother tells him he can’t possibly save all the starfish in the ocean. And he replies, “But it matters to this one … I can save just one at a time.”

This year, let’s keep our eyes and hearts open to the needs of our fellow man. Cleveland and Bradley County have programs designed to help build homes through Habitat for Humanity. We have programs to give people second chances through Family Promise, the Emergency Shelter, Salvation Army, The Caring Place and our United Way agencies to name only a few.

We all can give something — time, talent, money — just one gesture can make a difference in the life of another human being ... just one at a time.

Christmas Day 2013 will have come and gone. But let’s not forget Dec. 26 ... and the other 364 days of the year.

From our home to your home — Merry Christmas and may God richly bless you in the coming year.

Thank you Brother Littlefield, for reminding me each and every year of this important message. I am so blessed you passed my way ... and your memory and your legacy live on in this community.

Our community has long been “The City With Spirit,” and the Rev. M.E. Littlefield’s “loving, giving spirit” surely made a lasting impression on many lives.