A Guest Post from Christine McCall, an Americorps Worker at Cradles to Crayons

I’ve been fortunate to meet many, many wonderful people along the way in these early days of Time Well Spent. Among them is Christine McCall, my contact at Cradles to Crayons for the past year. Christine is just finishing up her year at C2C as part of the Americorps program. With a passion for helping others, a kind heart and an education in journalism, I look forward to following Christine’s journey as she moves forward.  With my hat off to Christine for a well-spent year at Cradles and expecting great things in her future, I’m happy to share a post written by Christine here and encourage folks to check out Christine’s blog.

Christine helping me unload the car at C2C's Giving Factory after a baby drive in the late spring.

Without any further ado…Read on for Christine’s reflection of a day spent making C2C kidpack deliveries…

Bringing pure joy and a smile that can light up a room to a young child’s face is an empowering and rewarding feeling that Michael A. Nicastro, III, Director of Community Safety Programs and Community Outreach at East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, experiences on a weekly basis when he delivers Cradles to Crayons KidPacks to children in Chelsea, East Boston, Revere and Winthrop.

East Boston Neighborhood Health Center is one of about 400 social service agencies that partner with Cradles to Crayons to provide children in Massachusetts with the basic essentials they need to be safe, warm, ready to learn and feel valued throughout the year.

“I feel like it makes a difference in their lives because they may not have been able to afford it on their own,” Nicastro said.

Cradles to Crayons’ employees do not typically interact directly with the children we serve, but recently I was extended an invitation to join Nicastro on two trips as he delivered Cradles to Crayons KidPacks filled with clothing, coats, shoes, books and toys.

Nicastro has worked with Cradles to Crayons for about four years and in that time he estimates that he’s delivered at least 1,500 KidPacks. A number of families in other towns in the surrounding area pick up their KidPacks at the health center.

Nicastro receives referrals from pediatricians, obstetricians and other medical staff at the health center who request items from Cradles to Crayons on behalf of their patients. Depending on the number of orders ready for pick up, Nicastro typically drives down to Quincy on Friday mornings to load the orders in the van and then goes from house to house delivering the packages.

To ensure the packages are getting to the children, Nicastro calls the parents or caregivers the night before to arrange the drop off and give them an expected time of arrival. On the first visit with Nicastro, we loaded 35 KidPacks into the back of the van and organized them by zip code.

Our first stop was a home in Chelsea. When we arrived at the home, we called to let the mother know we were outside. We had four packages for her children ranging in age from 3-11. The mother came outside to greet us and we helped carry the bags to her front door. She did not converse much, but the simple “thank you” and handshake showed her overwhelming gratitude.

“This is what’s satisfying,” Nicastro said. “You can’t get more grassroots than this…”

As we drove through the neighborhoods in Chelsea and East Boston that day, many of the mothers who came outside their homes to meet us and accept the packages did not speak English very well. But again the expression on their faces spoke more than words ever could and showed their immense appreciation for the products Cradles to Crayons is providing for their children.

Nicastro explained that the KidPacks represent money that parents or caregivers do not have to spend. Instead the money saved on clothing, toys and winter coats goes toward groceries, electric and heating bills and rent.

“C2C provides an option to them [parents] that they otherwise would not have,” Nicastro said. “In many instances, they would not have it [winter items] if it were not for Cradles.”

Many of the children receiving KidPacks are from Central and South America and they are unaccustomed to the New England winters. They are not prepared for the cold temperatures and there are children without coats and boots at school bus stops, Nicastro said.

For Nicastro, it is the direct interaction with patients that makes this part of his job so rewarding. “You can see the need,” Nicastro said. “It helps me to self actualize. I’ve learned to lose my self-importance.”

After a woman in East Boston received KidPacks for her 8-month-old, 2-year-old and 3-year-old, she asked me for my Cradles to Crayons business card because she wanted to send a thank you note to make the staff aware of how much this helps her and her family.

Our last stop during that first trip was a home in East Boston. A little girl dressed in red pants and white shirt with the word “Diva” written across the front in red piping pranced out of the house and greeted me with a big smile.

I will never forget the look on the 3-year-old girl’s face in East Boston when her eyes gazed upon the KidPack. Immediately, she started dancing around the bag and excitedly asked, “Is this for me? Is this for me?”

I crouched down to her level to examine the contents of the bag with her. She looked like a little diva as she danced around the bag and pointed at the new clothes, coat, books and toys in the bag. A birthday gift was included in the package and I told her that there was something extra special in there for her.

Without any hesitation, she wrapped her little arms around me and gave me the biggest bear hug a 3-year-old can give. Then she kissed me on the cheek. Her mother looked on and just smiled. At that moment, there were no words that could express how grateful the mother was for the contents inside the KidPack.

In these few seconds, I was overwhelmed with emotion and my eyes welled up with tears of happiness. Before we said goodbye and made the trip back to Cradles to Crayons, the little girl turned around and gave me a high five. It was her pure innocence and excitement that melted my heart. Days like this leave a lasting impression and give the work we do at Cradles to Crayons new meaning and perspective.

In my two delivery trips with Nicastro, we delivered a total of 74 KidPacks. On the second trip at the end of October, we delivered KidPacks to homes in Chelsea, Orient Heights in East Boston, Everett and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. The recipients at each and every home were humbled to receive the KidPacks and gracious in accepting them.
Nicastro will be in tomorrow morning at his regular time to pick up about 50 orders and plans to spend his Friday delivering all of them.

“This is one of the best things I do,” he said.

To date this year, Cradles to Crayons has provided 18,473 Kid Packs to low-income and homeless children living in Massachusetts, which is an increase of 26 percent over last year’s 14,681 KidPacks.

“It’s been a truly wonderful relationship,” Nicastro said. “Without [Cradles to Crayons], many of these children wouldn’t have winter clothing…that’s a fact.” 

Thanks again, Christine, for sharing your kind and helpful attitude for the last year – and for sharing the blog post. The story of the little girl so excited to receive her Kidpack is fabulous! Just as C2C will continue to do good things for those in need, I know you will, too, wherever the journey takes you! I look forward to following your progress and staying in touch.

Carpe Diem ~ Always! Nancy

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