A whole lot of giving going on

“Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.” — Lenora Mattingly Weber.

This Christmas, despite the particular nightmare that a local family has recently been through, they will perhaps have a chance to experience a little bit of good old fashioned Christmas cheer, with all the trimmings, and maybe a defrosting of their hearts, chilled by family violence.

Every year, Sherry and Bill Thornell, along with their employees at Pagosa Dental, “adopt a family” for the holiday instead of exchanging gifts amongst themselves at the office. The family that the co-workers adopted this year includes a newly single mother and her children who only very recently escaped from an abusive husband/father.

“In lieu of giving gifts to each other here at the office, we really like to give to people who need things more than we do,” said Sherry Thornell. “We are so blessed, that it is really important to us to give back.”

New traditions

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.” — Agnes M. Pharo.

When the Thornells heard about this young mother and children setting out on their own for the first time, they wanted to help. They delivered bags and bags and bags of wrapped gifts of everything from toys, to clothes, to warm winter boots and coats, to the family and donated the gift of free dental work the family needs. But in addition to this, the Thornell’s and company donated a gift card from City Market to buy food for a special holiday meal, as well as a Christmas tree and all the items needed to decorate it. “By giving them a gift card to choose their own holiday food and a tree to decorate themselves, we hoped to help them start their own new Christmas traditions,” said Sherry.

Leaving an abusive husband and father is a huge process of transition, said Carmen Hubbs, director of the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Center, who helped make the connection between the Thornell’s and the family. “It is very overwhelming, for a woman when she first leaves,” Hubbs explained. “A woman can feel very unsure about her decision, unsure about what’s going to happen next. This period in a victim’s life is kind of in crisis mode, and everything can be very overwhelming. But as things become more settled, a woman learns she really can rely on herself. And that she does have the qualities she needs to provide for her family and herself. But initially it can be very scary for a former victim to be on her own. She often has very little faith in herself. And there are a lot of peaks and valleys that she must experience during this transition.”

Hubbs went on to explain that a gift like the one the Thornell’s made to this family can bring a family a lot of hope. “It’s an opportunity to see that there is good in the world. Victims may feel jaded, and have a sort of negative outlook on life and people. But I think generosity from people in their community might help this family gain some trust for people who are genuinely out there to help, whose intentions are nothing but good,” said Hubbs.

The Christmas spirit

“Let Us Keep Christmas. Whatever else be lost among the years, let us keep Christmas still a shining thing; (whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, (let us hold close one day, remembering (it’s poignant meaning for the hearts of men. (Let us get back our childlike faith again.” — Grace Noll Crowell.

It may be cliché to say it is better to give than receive, but according to the employees at Pagosa Dental, giving really does fill a person up with the holiday spirit. Angel Gallegos, Renée Burch, Stephanie Barragan and Kari Plante make up the team of employees at the office; the women told The SUN that going out to buy all the gifts and decorations for the family was a blast. “Everybody really gets into it,” they said. “It puts us all in such a festive mood. It’s fun and it’s an opportunity to give rather than receive.”

“It’s been amazing,” Bill Thornell said about all the years they have adopted a family for Christmas. It’s so good to share something and to try to be representatives of our relationship with Christ.”

Incidentally, it is probably good that Angel, Renée, Stephanie and Kari did most of the shopping, along with Sherry, because as an anonymous thinker once said: “Anyone who believes that men are the equal of women has never seen a man trying to wrap a Christmas present.” (My apologies, it’s just that this was the funniest Christmas quote of all the ones I found, and I really wanted to include it.)

Whole lot of giving going on

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” — Hamilton Wright Mabie.

“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.” — Garrison Keilor.

In a community as bighearted as ours, an occasion like Christmas just means people go more all out than they usually do for each other. The good people at Pagosa Dental are by no means the only folks in Pagosa who show outstanding generosity towards others, both at Christmas and the whole year ’round. Archuleta County is a giving place, full of people who have “got each other’s backs,” as I like to say.

In fact, I would venture to guess that many of the families who have received assistance from others in the way of gifts and food for the holidays have themselves been generous in their own way to somebody in need. In Pagosa we don’t really have charity, so much as we have connection, in a million ways, large and small. Please consider this my hat off to you. (Usually, I don’t really wear hats, but in the winter it is actually cold enough to wear one, maybe you’ll forgive me, though, if I don’t literally take it off every time I see one of you generous people, because there are so many of you out there, that my hat would be off all the time, and it would defeat the purpose.)

Happy holidays.