So there I was in the freezing cold one December day putting numbered bracelet’s on the wrists of 1,000 people in line. It was like those wristbands they put on you in the hospital – once on you can’t take it off and still use it. The bracelet gave the people in line a number and organized who got in the store when. First come first serve - it was Jessica’s way of policing “need.” She figured if it was important enough for a person to wait in line for hours in the cold it meant you needed the help. Some waited all night in below zero temperatures. Most waited at least two hours. I had told Jessica I would work the line because I wanted to meet the people. I wanted to get an assessment of who was getting free toys and if the family was really in need. I came away thinking she had a pretty good formula.
She had one rule for the participants – you had to have a copy of the birth certificate of your child. That was how she policed what toys parents were allowed to take. That is all she needed to see; no statements of income, not even a signature on any form. She kept it simple and her compassion flowed. But during my work in the line I saw another side of Jessica. A young mother said she didn’t have the birth certificates for her child because they had been lost in an apartment fire. I called over Jessica so she could hear the story directly from the mom. In tears the story unfolded and Jessica listened. But she never wavered an inch. No certificates – no toys. I was a bit taken aback. No exceptions period. Jessica had the biggest of hearts but the toughest of minds.
I went on to work the line that day following Jessica’s recommendation that I always put the bracelets on the people myself. I made some exceptions to that procedure and they came back to haunt me. One father explained to me he had to go to work later and he needed a bracelet for his wife who was on the way. I gave him one. Fifteen minutes later two people came up asking for bracelets using the man as an example. I heard all about how it was a fabricated story and that he had given the bracelet to someone who had not waited in line and was not his wife. In another instance, there was a sweet looking young girl explaining that her mom was in the bathroom and if I would give her the bracelet she would give it to her mom. I told her to go get her mom and I’d put the bracelet on when she found me. Over an hour later and two new stories there was still no mom. There were cheaters in line I had to send to the back, there were people with wild stories of how I missed them and should get to go ahead and about every hard luck story you could imagine. So I got the Jessica point quickly. Without good process and standards things fall apart.
Jessica has the right combination. A big, big heart and an unwavering commitment to process she believes is fair and effective. She has lots of love for kids she has never meet and love for their parents. She wants the parents to be Santa Clause - not herself. She wants the parents to have the pride. But she follows the toughest of love. Meet her in the middle and good things can occur. Stretch beyond that and the charity stops. The big heart is unwavering. She understands that “no good deed goes unpunished.” But such negative events don’t slow her down much. She cuts through those like reindeer through the night.