One Monday morning, Heather Davidson and I walked down the hallway to Mrs. Anderson's combination class for fourth and fifth graders.
"Oh, goodness!" Heather moaned, hitting her forehead with her fist.
"What's the matter?"
"I forgot my canned food for the school Christmas drive for the needy." Heather frowned and shook her head. Then she grabbed my arm and said, "Hey, Desarae! I just thought of a super idea! Maybe our class could get together and give a special Christmas food basket to our own needy family this year."
"Sure," I said, "that's a great idea! Why don't you ask Mrs. Anderson about it?"
"I think I will. And you know what, Desarae?"
"I've been thinking about Marika, the new fifth grader from Bosnia. Her family moved into the old house down the street from where I live."
"Really, I didn't know that," I said.
"Yes, and her father isn't working," Heather said. "So I was thinking that maybe the class could give her family a special Christmas Day food-box."
"Good idea," I said. "When she goes to Mrs. Martin's English as a Second Language class today, we can talk to the rest of the kids about it."
When Marika left the classroom for her ESL class, I raised my hand and said, "Mrs. Anderson, for our class Christmas project, maybe we could help a needy family with a Christmas food-box?"
Then Heather chimed in and said, "Marika's family lives down the street from me. My mom visited them the other day, and she said they needed help, because Marika's father isn't able to work. Maybe we could put together a food-box for her family. Some of us could bake cookies and others could bring cans of food from home."
"Would you like to help Marika's family, class?" Mrs. Anderson asked.
"Yes, let's do it!" they all agreed.
"And let's not tell Marika," Heather said. "Let's surprise her."
"Way to go!" Joe, our class president, said with a thumbs up sign.
"Well," Mrs. Anderson said smiling, "This is going to be a nice Christmas project for our class. Now who is going to do what for our food basket?"
"I'll make popcorn balls," I volunteered.
"And I'll make chocolate chip cookies," Heather said. "I can make really, great chocolate-chip cookies."
"And I'll ask my mom to made a large sheet cake with chocolate frosting," Jenny said.
Our class went all out! We made so many delicious items, with the help of our parents who baked things too, that we had a great assortment of goodies and canned goods gathered together a few days before Christmas, and there were plenty of treats left over for our celebration.
Mrs. Anderson invited Marika's mother to be our guest at our class party that Wednesday. I'll never forget the look of happy surprise on Marika's face, when Joe opened the closet and brought out several, large, cardboard boxes packed with food for Marika's mother to take home for their Christmas dinner.
"You are vonderful children. Tank you so much!" Mrs. Bosnick said tearfully. "Tank you."
When Joe and some of the boys returned to class after putting the food-boxes in Mrs. Bosnick's car, the class began enjoying our party treats. A few kids pointed to Heather and me and told Marika, "It was all their idea!"
Marika dashed over and gave Heather and me a great big hug.
"Tank you for dinking about us," she said softly. "Father no work now. He very sad for family. He dink we no have Christmas. But now, we do!"
There were tears in Marika's eyes as she went on, "He broke leg at vork. He can't go vork until it well."
"Gee, I'm sorry, Marika," I said, standing and putting my arm around her shoulder.
"How's he doing now?" Heather asked.
"Oh, much better," Marika said, smiling and brushing away her tears. "Doctor say he be back to vork in month or so."
"Good news!" I said. I turned Marika around and led her in the direction of the dessert table where the rest of the kids were gathered.
"Come, Marika" I said mischievously, "let's get some punch and help the class eat the rest of Heather's chocolate chip cookies."
"Hey, wait up! I want a cookie, too," Heather said following close behind. "Save one for me!"
I felt a happy glow inside, as Heather and I looked across Marika to one another, while we three stood together munching on our cookies. I knew Heather was as happy as I.
Heather smiled and nodded to me, like she always did, when we shared a special secret together. It was great to know we'd helped our new friend, Marika, and her family have a wonderful first Christmas in a new country.
Evelyn Horan is currently working on her third novel for seniors and those interested in the Aging with Gentle Attitude trilogy. She writes short stories and articles for children and adults, and was a teacher counselor for many years, holding life credentials in education, pupil personnel and school psychology. Her award-winning children's historical fiction series, Jeannie, A Texas Frontier Girl: Books One-Four, and Rain on My Wings are available at www.publishamerica.com and other bookstores.